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Let's get the apologies out of the way first: I am a Rigor Mortis fanboy from the late 80's, and this is most likely going to be my only fanboy review ever. Unless, of course, I ever manage to get a CD copy of Blind Illusion's The Sane Asylum, which is the best thing any metallic thing has ever produced. It will get a 100%, and has already set my personal standard for everything done after it. But until that extremely hypothetical moment, I am sorry to lose my own internally perceived objectivity. I really promise to reserve the 95+ range for the rare and true masterpieces.
Rigor Mortis's self-titled is one of those masterpieces. It has its pros and cons, but in the end, the pros beat the crap, guts, brain and liver out of the cons, and leave the battlefield in gory victory. Everything on the album has an edge, and nothing is a mellow compromise: the production kind of sucks when judged by the modern standards of high fidelity, and rules when judged as it is, the lyrics are idiotic but fun, guitar playing is extremely good, the songs are magnificient examples of basic but ingenious simplicity, the cover art is a masterpiece of sorts, and the whole image is a pure consciously self-ironic bull's eye. As the great Finnish humour magazine, Pahkasika (R.I.P.), once wrote, "only mediocrity is failure", and that fits this album exactly.
The production of the album is a child of its time, but despite the unfinished surfaces and the coarse surface, it works wonders. Most of the time, the most audible elements are either the vocals or the guitar. The drums, almost like a collection of cardboard boxes and tin cans, are somewhere in the background, providing the beat but not much else... unless you really pay attention to them, which is not an undertaking supported by the overall sound. The drumming might be archetypal, but at the same time, it epitomizes the late 80's thrash drumming, from the times when bands like Rigor Mortis started to flirt with the filth was later to become death metal. The bass is like a inner tube of a tire of an old bicycle, stretched and plucked by a skillful player, but most of the time replacing a rhythm guitar to back up Scaccia's guitar mastery. It shows it's true excellence only momentarily every once in a while, and mostly remains almost unnoticeable, churning in the background next to the drums, but with a mission; at no point does the music contain rhythm guitar parts and leads that could not be played simultaneously by a guitar prodigy such as Scaccia. The production could have been better, or, rather, today's audience would expect something with a more clinical sound, but Rigor Mortis is a masterpiece of its own age, and the overall sound has an gritty balance unequalled by today's thrash.
The best part on the album is the guitar. Mike Scaccia must have been one of the fastest guitarists of the 80's, and the sheer speed and fury is amazing. It might well be that this kind of guitar-emphasizing production has been an conscious choice, as the guitar is the force that carries the whole band, and Scaccia's style is unique. His rhythm guitar is good, although often bordering on a continuous lead guitar, but the lead parts themselves are the real spice of the album. I don't really understand the technical side of guitar playing, but I believe some of the solos are intentionally written the way they are, simply so that they could be played in these extreme speeds at all; tremolo-picked extremely high-speed slides from a note to the next, packed with furious speed. There's more than a hint of very rapid slides from one note to the next, and the notes change from one to the next without an interval of any kind. Maybe it would have taken too many milliseconds to raise the finger off the fret board before hitting the next note. Scaccia is fast, period.
The vocals are an exquisite rarity. Bruce Corbitt's style is a kind of coarse shouting, but it's still fairly easy to hear the lyrics. Usually any band with gory lyrics has such brutal vocals that any traces of lyrical contents are immediately lost. Not here. Corbitt's voice is not brutal in a black metal or brutal death sense, but damn, he sounds angry and serious enough to be a bit scary. Today's thrash has been flooded with screaming gremlins and coarse growlers, and I miss this kind of vocals. He sounds like a big and angry man, and shouts effortlessly. There is an actual feeling of a flaming maniac who simply tells what he wants to happen, and has enough insane authority to make it happen. Magnificient! Losing -or kicking out- this man was a bad blow to the band, and eventually sentenced the band's third album to oblivion.
The bass and drums, as mentioned above, are just stuff filling the background and supporting the whole. These guys are not on par with the highly technical Sadus bassist and drummer from approximately the same years, for example, but their mission is to keep the flogging and frantic beating going on, and they succeed. The foundation of any kind of good metal is in the drums, bass, and riffs; here, Scaccia goes beyond the riffing saveral times, and the rhythm section's irreplaceable mission is to keep the thrashing alive. The drums suffer the worst fate of all in the hands of the production, and the clicking on the ride plate is the only part of the kit that can be clearly heard all the time in addition to the basic beat, even to the point of mild annoyance. The drumming has plenty of little fills and the bass -when audible- does nice, if straightforward, little things.
Songwriting on the album is done with a single purpose: to give Scaccia a chance to play guitar the way he does. The basic structures are rather simple, and the guitar and the vocals take turns in pushing the speeding music forward. This is a down-to-earth, no-bullshit approach to thrash metal, and should be appreciated the way it is.
The lyrics are, you guessed it, gore, and even bloodier than your average Shaun Hutson novel. Mostly they re-create 70's and early 80's splatter movies, including Wizard of Gore (1970) and Re-animator (1985), and other stories with enough blood to be positively ridiculous. Or what do you think:
Buckets of blood
Bowls of eyeballs"
If someone actually manages to take that very seriously, I salute him, and suggest a chemically induced reality check inside the closest funny farm and staying away from black metal altogether. The theme of the band, including the instantly recognizable cover, is a nice attempt at creating the kind of self-ironic atmosphere that pervades the Tromateam movies and many horror comics. The attempt is largely successful, and I just love the intentionally campy feeling combined with extravagant excellence of the music. Beautiful, idiotic and fun.
Finally, the extra tracks. As the album was re-released after the band allegedly reformed, they added three extra tracks. Now, usually that sucks. Take the Megadeth re-releases as an example: there are remixes, nearly worthless rejects from the original albums, and generally mediocre bonus songs. As I waited for my copy to arrive in the mail, I was worried about a possible dilution of an exceptional album by uninspired filler tracks. My fear was unfounded: the two studio tracks, Foaming at the Mouth and Grudge Fuck, are as good as the original songs. The third, Spivey, is a strange live song. The sleeve simply states "Previously unreleased for very good reason!", and the lyrics are missing. The song is a joke, obviously, but the corny falsetto choir repeating "Spivey, Spivey" over and over again in the background is absolutely hilarious. The recording also proves the live prowess of the band. Not a bad addition, in my opinion.
All in all, the album is an uncompromizing and frustratingly little-known work of art. Buy it, and make up your own mind. It is certainly good enough for me to admit being a fanboy: it took eight years, from the moment I ditched my crappy, broken cassette copy of this divine thrash piece, to the moment when I finally opened the box and got my new re-release CD. At no point during those years did it fall out of my "top five albums of all time" list, despite it's absence. Do yourself a self-inflicted favour and give it a try. Just don't hurt yourself in the process.