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Every now and then, I run across something that managed to crawl under the radar. The cult German Black/Death/Thrash band, Poison, was not completely unheard of. Yet in my earliest days of exploring the Teutonic scene, this was passed over in favour of better-known acts such as Sodom, Kreator, Destruction and even Exumer. The Poison demos weren't readily available, so they were ignored. On the one hand, this represents a grievous error; however, on the other hand, it provides the opportunity to go back in time. There are few things as good as discovering old music that one missed out on. Just when you think that you have heard them all, the disappointment fades upon realizing that there are hidden treasures still waiting to be found. Recently, someone recommended that I check this band out and it couldn't have come at a more appropriate time.
Poison formed in 1982 and went on to release a handful of demos as they perfected their craft. In 1987, they released the godly Into the Abyss demo, which is a masterpiece of underground Death/Thrash. It all begins with "Sphinx". This epic song starts with a mid-paced thrash riff, building a sense of tension. You can feel that something monumental is about to be unleashed. The song bursts forth with fast riffs and inhuman vocals. The vocal style displays a great deal of variety, as Virgin Slaughter has a range that includes a deeper sound more akin to Death Metal as well as a raspier scream, seeming somewhat reminiscent of Quorthon. Despite the extremity of the music, it is quite complex. There are frequent tempo changes, as Angel of Death's thrash riffs change to slower, doom riffs. Incubus Demon's bass is audible, such as on Slayer's Hell Awaits. And, of course, Witchhammer is proficient on the drums. At a time when the other German bands are streamlining their sound and going for a pure Thrash Metal approach, Poison were busy giving In the Sign of Evil some evil competition.
"Yog-Sothoth" is the shortest song, clocking in just over seven minutes. This one begins with slow doom riffs, creating an ominous atmosphere of dread. After a brief intro, the pace picks up with textbook thrash riffs and fast drumming. The production isn't as clear as one would like, preventing the music from making the true impact that is is capable of. Fortunately, the feeling is conveyed, nonetheless. After a couple minutes, the tempo slows a little as some mid-paced riffs allow for the dark aura to settle into your subconscious. This doesn't last long, as the hellish assault resumes. This song features many memorable melodies. About halfway through, the song slows down and utilizes an acoustic guitar melody as eerie whispers call out from the darkness. This is certainly more evil than what Mayhem was doing around the same time.
The next song is the epic "Slaves (of the Crucifix)". It opens with some interesting melodies, creating an eerie atmosphere while building to something larger. The sound, gradually, gets louder and louder, as the guitars are pushed to the front of the mix. This song features some intense thrash riffs and very fast drumming. Here, the vocals sound close to what Quorthon would accomplish on Blood Fire Death, in some places. After a relentless and punishing assault, the song slows down to wallow at the fathomless depths, doing well to convey a sense of impending doom. This one sounds very much like 80s Black Metal. The track features a few more tempo changes and some incredibly possessed vocals during the closing moments.
"Requiem / Alive (Undead)" concludes this incredible demo. It rises from the murky fog with a somber melody before unleashing its full force. This takes the dark feeling from Sodom's debut E.P. and the vicious assault from Kreator's Endless Pain to the next logical step. Hellhammer influences can be detected, though the musicianship found here is quite superior to that Swiss outfit. A slow, doom-filled pace dominates much of this song, though the tempo does pick up, also featuring killer solos. This song is dripping with a dark and primal atmosphere, tearing at your flesh and devouring your mind. It all ends in a traditional manner, finishing out this brilliant demo.
Into the Abyss is a work of genius. While Kreator and Sodom were getting farther away from their cryptic roots and while the remnants of Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, were moving into poser territory, Poison managed to spawn something truly dark and inspiring. For fans of the early work of the aforementioned bands, along with old Bathory, Mefisto and Morbid, this is highly recommended.
Poison were a German band that started out playing sloppy and primitive Hellhammer/Sodom worship, and although the spirit was certainly there in their early material, the substance had not yet reached its full potential yet. I like the early recordings for what they are, and of course, I have nothing but the utmost respect for their historical significance in the growth and development of extreme metal, but it was not until 1986, when they released their Awakening the Dead demo, that their sound had really changed direction into a much more developed death/thrash style. Eeven then, they still had not yet attained the level of mastery they would soon achieve. Later that year, Poison went into the studio to record Into the Abyss (later released in ’87), which is a masterpiece of ripping death/thrash, and with a much more developed and matured sound compared to previous efforts, making their bestial savagery present on their old demos even more effective. It is unfortunate that this was their last recording, but they certainly did not leave on a bad note, as this is one of the greatest recordings that the 80’s extreme metal era had to offer.
What you will find on Poison’s 1987 masterpiece is pummeling and barbaric death/thrash metal with plenty of early black metal elements from their earlier demos. The progress this band had made in less then a year of their previous recording is remarkable, but at the same time, when looking at each demo in chronological order, you see a steady progression in their sound from recording to recording, so seeing the band improve this much should not really be a shocker. The musicianship, composition and songwriting skills, riffing, drumming, and everything in between, had all improved significantly. Luckily, they had enough money at this point to buy some studio time, which helped properly capture the band’s newfound masteries by giving the demo a full studio production job. Although the production is much clearer then their preceding recordings, there is still a thick layer of crust on top of the whole mix, giving it more character then a crispy clean studio job, or just a bigger budget, would have.
One of the most significant changes in the band’s sound is in the riffing. On their earlier demos, the riffing was more in the vein of Hellhammer, demo-era Messiah, and early Sodom, and was far more simplistic then the various riffing styles utilized on Into the Abyss. Here, the riffing is much thrashier, making excellent use of palm mutes, well-placed pinch harmonics, speedy triplets and individually picked notes, rather then mostly using strummed powerchords. These new elements incorporated into the riffing adds enough variation to allow each individual riff to stand on its own and not sound like any of the other ones. The guitars themselves have a crisp and chunky tone to them, sharp enough to swiftly slice a off a limb, and heavy enough to crush the bones therein, and I would not ask for anything otherwise. It is just another element of perfection found in this magnificent demo.
The drums and bass provide a powerful backbone for the guitars to lay their thrashing mayhem over. Like the guitars, the bass has a sharp and thick sound to it, and has enough prominence in the mix to do an effective job of rattling your sub woofer. Witchhammer’s drumming has also gone through a significant amount of improvement from the previous recordings. He has gotten much tighter and never misses a beat, which is much more then what can be said about the earlier demos. There is also much more variation in the tempos and rhythms then before, probably due to the more diverse styles of riffs that the band was now using. He can go from a morbidly slow and crushing DOOOM rhythm to a high speed thrashing frenzy at the drop of a hat, and pulls it off perfectly. And what would be more fitting for this band’s blackened style of death/thrash then a vocalist who sounds savagely possessed by Satan himself? The answer to this question is simple: nothing. Virgin Slaughter’s vocal style is a maniacal, demonic snarl that sounds like a mixture of Morbid Saint’s Pat Lind and Death Fiend/Triumph of Death-era Tom G. Warrior. It is truly a match made in Hades.
This demo is essential for anyone even remotely into brutal, vicious 80’s death/thrash, as well as old school black metal and the mid-late 80’s proto-death metal sound. Everything about it is perfect and one could not ask for anything more (except for maybe another vinyl reissue, or have that 2LP that was released by Iron Pegasus get repressed). On one end, it is a shame that this band does not get more recognition for their role in the development of extreme metal, but on the other hand, their cult status gives me a small sense of self-righteous satisfaction, so I can’t complain.