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Raw, uneven, semi-clueless... but still a classic - 86%

Noktorn, February 19th, 2008

I never got QUITE as into this album as a lot of other people have; I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I have difficult relating with a lot of music from half a decade before I was born. I'm not going to fawn over it because it's 'oldschool' and 'legendary' when there's no way I'll ever be able to TRULY connect with stuff from an era in metal that's so radically different from the one I'm currently involved in. I've always thought it's kind of silly when teenagers go on about how incredible Iron Maiden or old Metallica is. While those artists both might have amassed a collection of truly great music, it just feels sort of disingenuous to me to hear people fawn over an album that was produced before their particular sperm cell was even close to being spawned. That being said, I like 'Seven Churches' a pretty good amount. It's not amazing as a whole (though there are a few moments that are), but it is a very respectable album, and, of course, an incredibly important one.

Much like Venom's 'Black Metal', 'Seven Churches' is an honorary death metal album more than a sonic one. A lot of people waffle around and try to imply that there's something truly yet abstractly different about this release which separates it from 'mere' thrash metal, but the fact is that it's really just a weird and unique thrash album. It's a very good one though, and you can clearly see how this influenced early death metal greatly: numerous riffs sound like they're out of the early Morbid Angel book, and the overall feel does approach early Death pretty frequently. It doesn't sound like pure thrash, admittedly; the riffing is very twisted, hellish, and more atonal than usual, and the rougher vocal performance, though still somewhat theatrical in a Nuclear Assault sense, is obviously a step forward from thrash convention. The drumming is a strange element; think the drumming of mid-era Slayer, but more tentative and uneven, like Mike Sus was really, really afraid of screwing up at any moment, and there's a lot of weird beat decisions with snare/bass/snare rhythms bleeding into awkward skank beats and strange snare rolls. It's thrash without the bounce or feeling particularly 'thrashy'. It's more directly hellish, the closest approximation being, again, Slayer.

All in all, a lot of these songs feel very raw and unformed, like this album is really one big demo without all the kinks worked out quite yet. Or any of the kinks, for that matter. The songs are designed very awkwardly, and most sections transition into each other just by stopping and switching riffs or with an abrupt tom fill and immediate, stilted shift to the next movement. That being said, there are points that are more clearly developed than others. 'Burning In Hell' is the best track by a mile, with the most sinister riffs and vocal performance on the record and an overall structure that feels very organic; hell, it almost sounds like Morbid Angel's 'Bleed For The Devil' with its too-fast pace and evil delivery. The title track also sounds like an old Morbid Angel track with particularly Azagthoth-esque solos and riffing style. And then, finally, there's 'Death Metal', which is ironically probably the thrashiest track on here along with being the most strange and awkward; however, it has a sort of innocent charm about it that's fun to listen to.

There's little that's professional about this album, from the uneven playing to the thin production and even to the minimal, slapped-together cover art. But it is an important, worthwhile listen that greatly influenced early death metal. Should you get it? Of course! It's a weird, fascinating classic of early extreme metal that everyone should hear at least once to gain some proper perspective, even if you don't really like it very much in the traditional sense. After all, what could be more important to listen to than the very first death metal album?