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I’ll be honest. This is the album that popped my Thanatos cherry. I’d seen the logo, which is actually fairly lame by today’s standards, several times during my numerous forays into European death metal, but I never pulled the trigger and gave them a chance.
What Johan Cruyff was to Total Football, Thanatos is to Dutch death metal: where it all began. Thanatos have been producing their brand of simplistic thrashy death metal since the mid 1980s, and I’m obligated to mention that they are widely accepted as the oldest extreme metal band from the Netherlands.
Thanatos emerged from the Netherlands with their full-length debut “Emerging from the netherworlds” in 1990 and have since shared members here and there with other Dutch stalwarts like Asphyx and Hail of Bullets. I enjoy Holland’s brand of death metal as much as anyone. I absolutely love Sinister, and I really dig Toxocara and some of The Monolith Deathcult’s work, so it was easy for me to find the appeal in giving a band like Thanatos a shot in my CD player given their history and impact on the scene.
Their 2004 release, “Undead. Unholy. Divine.” is, from the first listen, a fairly easily digestible piece of simple, enjoyable thrashy death metal. There is also not a single moment on the album when I am even remotely impressed by technicality or instrumental prowess. In fact, I feel like I could sit down with my Jackson for a little while and figure out a few of the riffs on the album within a couple of listens.
Obviously, simplicity is not always a bad thing. Many times with this style of music, the more simple riffs are the ones that tend to stick and have that delicious catchiness to them like Grave’s “Soulless.” It’s simple. It’s groovy. It’s catchy. Now, I am in no way putting Thanatos on that level. They aren’t even in the same area of the universe with a band like Grave in terms of quality or style, but what they do on “U.U.D.,” they do well. They give us good death metal with just enough thrash influences to give it some speed and excitement.
The overall milieu of the production is a lot like your mom: best described as thick and ugly. The guitars actually have a pretty good tone and are prominent enough in the mix to make out every single chord, note, pick scrape, and fret buzz, which only inadvertently exaggerates the simplicity of most of the riffs. The drums always sound like they’re being hit with Zdeno Chara’s hockey stick. The vocals are raspy and trebly, sounding like a continuation of the guitar tones at some times. As for the bass, it has a really good sound, but it needs to be just a bit more prominent in the mix for my taste. Marco De Bruin is doing some really cool stuff, but he disappears far too often.
The drumming, provided by Yuri Rinkel, currently of Melechesh, I like to refer to as very intelligent. Much like the rest of the music, there’s never anything overly technical, too fast, or flashy, but all the little nuances of the drum parts make most of the tracks interesting. A short blastbeat here or a well-timed pause there, and Thanatos manages to keep your full attention.
Stephan Gebédi, who now plays guitar for Hail of Bullets, handles the vocals, and his sound reminds me, for some reason, of Gard of Khold and Tulus fame. They’re agressive, rough, crackly, and generally just fucken ugly in that classic blackened thrash kind of way. Just hearing it makes me look for a lozenge, and I just really dig Gebédi’s style. Well, at least everything except for the Axl Rose-ish screams in “Eraser.”
As I said before, from a songwriting standpoint, these guys keep it simple. Songs like “Eraser” and “Beyond Terror” result in being fun listens just because there are so many memorable riffs. Guitar solos are very typical of late-80s thrash, in that they occasionally strike me as musical gibberish and always sound totally unreproducible, but that really makes them stand out due to their overall discrepancy with the elementary riffing underneath them.
Lyrically, I can’t decide if Thanatos is just trying too hard or letting an angry teenager write rhyming lines for them. They seem to have the poetic eloquence of Gene Simmons. Also, the ridiculous ending they gave the album complete with ambient noise turning into an attempt at Nasum-esque grindcore was totally unnecessary.
Thanatos are definitely some competent death metal granddaddies. While I can’t lie and say I’m overly impressed by what they bring to the table in terms of technicality, I can admit that these guys produce some pretty catchy, enjoyable music. If you like solid, catchy death metal with some interesting thrash passages, Thanatos is definitely your cup of tea.
Written for globaldomination.se
The metal work can be a fickle one. Some bands explode in a blaze of creativity and popularity, then are left to trudge it out, and occasionally some regain their initial spark – but most just keep releasing albums that are “good, but no (xx album released in 1986). Others are simply content to keep cranking out solid, vicious metal without garnering much attention, but often it’s these bands which creatively overshadow their more well-known peers. A good case in point being Thanatos – this band released their first demo tape in 1984, and in the past 20 years unleashed several more demo’s, a live tape and four full length albums. Undead.Unholy.Divine marks their 20th anniversary, and they’ve done a damn good job of blowing away any recent efforts by plenty of other still-active 80s thrashers. Mainly because, it seems, they’ve taken note of the good ideas injected into thrash by their younger peers. Rather than going all Swedish on us like Kreator, or turning into self-absorbed wankers a-la Celtic Frost, they’ve injected a big dose of death metal intensity, while retaining the balls-out thrash style. This is pure 80’s death metal put through a modern filter, building up intensity through mood rather than speed. They mostly stick around midpaced, speeding up every now and then, occasionally launching into a well-placed blastbeat, but never simply revving up to breakneck speed for its own sake.
The other good thing here is the mix, which is fucking thick and not too clean – this sounds grimy and dirty, but everything remains audible. Not to mention the total horror-movie atmosphere they often conjure up – the intro of “Beyond Terror” being a perfect example, while the resulting song is a wicked riff-fest. The vocals here vary between a deep growl and a more audible rasp, the latter definitely reminding of Jeff Becerra – you can tell Possessed probably blew them away with Seven Churches, because shades of that album frequently make themselves heard. Morbid Angel is another of their peers who seem to have made an impression, with the solo in “Beyond Terror” being a near-perfect replica of the opening “air raid siren” break from “Abominations”.
The only negative here is the silly, pointless hidden grindcore track after an even more pointless silence at the end of the album. But since it’s preceded by 10 tracks of pure death-thrashing goodness AND placed on a separate track index so one can merely program it out of existence, I’ll let them get away with it. This time ;)