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Sorcery was one of countless acts on the early 90s Swedish death metal scene, and just like many such acts, they managed to only record and release one album before fading away. What sets Sorcery apart from most other bands of the time however, is that they actually had something cool to offer. Unlike many other bands of this era, who released material that was generic and mediocre, Bloodchilling Tales is actually an album with identity and character. While eventually being overrun by more legendary acts such as Entombed and Dismember, Sorcery are worthy of a few paragraphs in the death metal history books, as this record is actually one of the most underrated albums of the era.
At first glance, Bloodchilling Tales seems like your average early 90s Swedish death metal album. There is however one thing that sets it apart from the other generic death metal records: the use of classic horror themes in the lyrics and music. Obviously, using references to death and horror is nothing new for the death metal genre, but Sorcery does this in a much more refined and artistic way. The lyrics on the album stay away from the blunt lyrical gorefests of bands such as Cannibal Corpse, and instead deliver a narrative more inspired by mythology, Lovecraftian stories and classic horror movies, while always maintaining a good balance and never going over the top. Some good examples include “The Rite Of Sacrifice”, which is about a Jack the Ripper-like serial killer stalking people in the night, “Death”, which is about Death personified who visits a village to collect the souls of the people, and “Dragons Of The Burning Twilight”, which is about dragons. Yes, you read that right: dragons – and the most surprising thing is that the band actually manages to make this song sound brutal and convincing without turning it into a power metal-esque cheese fest!
This philosophy is apparent in all areas. The music and riffs are all soaked in the classic early 90s Swedish death sound, but the band also utilizes orchestral keyboards and sound samples of rain and thunder, which greatly contributes to the feeling of classical horror. The best thing is that the band uses these sounds wisely; the main focus is always on the guitars and vocals, and the keyboards and samples are only used in the background on a few select occasions to enhance the mood. Hell, even the album title and the cover art just scream classic horror! The cover art honestly looks like something that could’ve come out of the golden age of horror movies in Hollywood.
But all these horror themes aside, this album wouldn’t be worth much if there wasn’t any substance beneath the atmospheric effects, and luckily, Bloodchilling Tales delivers also in this aspect. The songs are cleverly composed, and use a good formula of mixing fast intense parts with slower, doomier sections. They never feel like just a bunch of riffs thrown together, and actually contain a lot of memorable parts. Some of my favorite sections include the verses in “Legacy Of Blood”, where the singer is growling in a rhythmic way that creates a very nice groove along with the guitars, and the part in the middle of “Dragons Of The Burning Twilight” (starting right after the 3 minute mark), where the subtle keyboards and the singer’s distorted voice creates a truly chilling feeling. It’s fascinating that the band manages to create such an atmosphere with so few ingredients.
The production and musicianship is okay, but not top notch. Despite being recorded in the legendary Sunlight Studios by equally legendary producer Tomas Skogsberg, the production sounds a bit thin. Singer Ola Malmström has a good voice which fits the music, even if it’s not too memorable. Drummer Paul Johansson keeps the groove fairly well, but occasionally seems to get a bit lost, for example in the intro to “The Rite Of Sacrifice”, where I honestly don’t know what he’s trying to accomplish. The guitarists and the bassist do what they are supposed to do, nothing more. Overall, I feel the band members are stronger as a unit rather than as individuals, something they share with bands like Metallica and Anthrax.
Truth to be told, Bloodchilling Tales pales in comparison to the more famous albums of this era, such as the debuts of Entombed, Dismember, and Tiamat, but it is still a very fine piece of art that should not be forgotten. I highly recommend everyone interested in death metal to unearth this gem and give it a few spins. It’s too bad that Sorcery didn’t achieve any success, as they truly had a lot of potential. Their approach to death metal was fresh and unique, and the fact that they released their album in 1991, the same year as Dismember released their debut, shows that they were indeed one of the pioneers of the genre, and not late-comers who blatantly copied the big leaders. It seems that their downfall was in part due to chaotic lineup changes, as no less than three of the band members who played on this album quit the band within a year after its release. The band members eventually moved on to other projects such as In Aeternum, Fear My Solitude, and Gadget, and Sorcery was put to rest. Had the band lineup remained intact, and had they received support from a strong label, Sorcery could very well have turned into something really big. Instead, they folded, and only Bloodchilling Tales remain – a lost relic reminding us of what were and what could have been.
Another day, another long lost relic of the past exhumed and cherished. This time, its Sorcery’s only full-length debut that’s receiving the attention. Sorcery back in the day played very effective, if simplistic, death/thrash. Quality musicianship of course was not the concern here, and creating the most morbid music possible was really all that mattered. Throughout the ten track terror ride, the band thrashes the listener with darkened, meaty riffs coupled with ghastly screeches from beyond. Add truly sinister samples and interludes, and the listener is simply captivated by the creativity displayed here. This is about as old-school as you can get when it comes to classic death metal. Unfortunately, Sorcery never did opted for a second full-length and like many bands before them, faded into obscurity.
Anyway, the production on this album is quite thin, but tremendously effective in painting a creepy atmosphere. I would’ve liked the drums to sound a little less flat, but everything seems to be good here. Really though, the album captures the typical Sunlight Studio production at the height of its popularity. Fans can immediately detect similiarities between other greats like Entombed, Carnage or Cemetary. The album begins with a very cool intro filled with bells, thunder and other various orchestral pieces. It immediately establishes the tone of the album; dark, foreboding and mysterious. This probably my favorite ambient piece in all of death metal, since it perfectly encapsulates what classic horror is all about. From the get-go, the listener forewarned if the impending dangers ahead, almost like entering a haunted mansion in one of the Scooby-Doo episodes. The next minute, the listener is assaulted with classic, Swedish death metal riffs. Thrash seems to be a predominate influence here, as they are easily detectable on such cuts as Immortality Given or Lucifer’s Legions. Other times it’s just tremolo-picking interspersed with doom-laden portions. The good thing though, is that the band is very adept at pacing the songs. Compositionally, the album is a fine template of varied songwriting. The thrashing, speedy sections is equally balanced by the more mid-paced and doom-laden ones. There’s also a keen sense of timing, so the listener is never bored for to long.
Furthermore, for death metal, these songs are stupendously catchy. Take the fun chorus line of Immortality Given, and you’ll probably find yourself singing, or should I say growling, to it in no time. The middle riff of Descend to the Ashes is also highly memorable and addictive. The band’s pretension never really got a hold of them and they just let the songs flow and ebb with ease. Front-man Ola Malmstrom is a solid growler, giving the album the urgency it deserves. Some of his screams are very fitting in faster sections and his deeper growls compliments the slower ones nicely. The drummer seems well-timed and the rest of the band just churn out quality riffs after quality riffs. Overall, a very spirited band indeed. So basically, anyone who remotely enjoys old-school death metal has to get this. The song titles, cover art itself screams old-school death metal. It’s been re-issued several times but the version with the “Rivers of the Dead” EP is really the best one to get.