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Rigor Mortis used to be a marvellously fast and aggressive thrash band of my late teens. Their self-titled debut album was at the time a furiously fast and violent, although a quite badly produced masterpiece. Maybe it would be considered mere aggressive thrash or basic death metal today, but it was angry at the days with 75 miles to the closest decent record store, even with its beautifully idiotic lyrics and goofy overall image. Somehow I believe that many artists in the now heavily overcrowded and lamentably undertalented brutal death metal genre have had it in their collections and regular playlists in the late 80's, even if it rarely gets mentioned as a classic today. The Freaks EP followed the debut with equal ferocity and better production, and certainly still gives a solid kick in the kidneys when needed.
The third work in the series, Rigor Mortis vs The Earth, proves to be a harsh disappointment. The first two tracks, the beautiful instrumental Dying in My Sleep, and angry and excellent Mummified, promise a good ride for the rest of the album. Then the third track, Throwback, pours a bucket of tepid water on the listener's head. It's a truly poor performance. What the hell happened? The fourth track, Contagious Contamination is again a relative masterpiece, followed by the nicely starting but ultimately boring The Rack, before the album hits the bottom mud with a useless Ramones cover, Psychotherapy. The excellent City in Fear and Asphyxia temporarily save the album from a certain spiral of death, before the remaining three songs force it to belly-land in a potatofield. What is wrong with this album? What has happened to the Rigor Mortis I used to know?
A second listening and a peek inside the sleeve reveal the problem: the good stuff is sung by the then-new singer Doyle Bright, while the remaining crap has vocals by the bassist Casey Orr. And he, I'm sorry to say, is not up to the task. He really cannot carry a tune for two yards, and sounds like a teenager trying to growl punk in the throes of a serious voice change of a badly troubled puberty. The only decent song by him is The Rack, and even that one is mostly salvaged by the excellence of the guitar work. The good tracks also contain much better songwriting, as if the band saved the best songs for the new singer. The lyrics throughout the album stay in the traditional Rigor Mortis area of violence, mayhem and intestines, no matter who doing the vocals.
The result is obviously a relative disaster. The traditional Rigor Mortis sound, with the emphasis alternating between the vocals and guitar, and both the barely audible bass and muddled drums staying in the background, means that every time Orr opens his mouth, every problem his voice has immdiately becomes a problem to whoever is listening. Why did they have to do this? How many hours of studio time would it have required to have Bright sing the tracks again? They ended with a divided album of excellent thrash and embarrassing punk-demo-quality songs. Most of the songs by Orr sound like punk of some sort, and probably account for the often mentioned "punk influence" on the album. Scaccia's guitar work, even on the bad tracks, is still phenomenal, but the lousy singing almost makes even it sound smothered, although this could very well be partly psychosomatic after hearing Orr's croaking. The production, while still far from perfect, is miles ahead of the sound of the debut album, but once again leaves bass and drums to the background, although this time they are actually audible.
The math is merciless. You can have the best guitar work in the world, but when you combine it with abysmal vocals and produce the whole so that they share the time available equally, you end up with a mediocre mean value. The one third of the tracks, with Bright's vocals, raise the rating of the album somewhat, but even they cannot work wonders. Fifty percent of this is irritating to listen to, and that brings the album close to the point where it cannot recover itself any more. And all this because of the vocals. That's an achievement in itself.
What should they have done? Well, throwing out the tapes with Orr's vocals on them and replacing them with Bright's would probably have improved the album to somewhere around 80%. After that, kicking out the completely redundant Ramones cover and a few less excellent tracks in the end (Speedwhore, and possibly Sog or Dead Fish) would have brought it up to 90%. But that didn't happen.
Another solution would have been to completely cut out the tracks with Orr singing, keeping the instrumentals. The end result would have been a splendid EP, on par with Freaks or even better. But that didn't happen either.
It would be interesting to know about the circumstances that led Rigor Mortis to do this to their album. There is either a lack of personal quality control or something else that forced them to use Orr's barking as the vocals on all the spoiled tracks. Could it be something like running out of money and/or studio time? Orr's personal ambition? Frustration and desperation in the face of a looming split-up? Distrust towards the new vocalist? Whatever it is, it was a mistake, and somehow might have had something to do with the band's split-up.
The band nowadays has a web page that almost promises a reform of the band. Also, there's a mention of Casey Orr's punk band, The Hellions, that possibly further explains the aforementioned "punk influences". Anyone who knows these guys: please tell them to keep Mr. Orr away from the microphone in case they actually decide to make a new album, unless the aim is to permanently move away from thrash and death and -essentially- their old fan base. Thank you in advance, sir/ma'am.
Now, that's it. I've bashed one of the favourites of my youth. It's time to repent. A penance of no coffee or beer for me for two days might make me redeem myself. D'oh!