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It’s not going to be an exaggeration if I say that “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” was one of the most anticipated albums by me. It’s all due to the awesomeness of the debut LP, which The Grotesquery unleashed back in 2010, when I honestly got blown away by “Tales of the Coffin Born” and felt like Kam Lee together with Rogga Johansson managed to do an album, which I called “King Diamond of death metal”. “Tales of the Coffin Born” not only contained very good songs, but also had a story, which impressed and interested me fully. It’s one of those albums, which when listening to needs also to be read – only then you can totally understand each song and follow the story and in this case it did truly feel like reading a horror novel or watching a horror movie. This is why I was really looking forward to hear and read the story of “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” and this is also why my expectations were quite high. I got the LP version as soon as possible and first look at the gatefold cover tells me one thing: The Grotesquery didn’t change anything if we speak of their ideas for the graphical part of their albums. The second full length looks pretty much just like the debut, with every song’s text looking like sort of a page from a diary or another document, all hand written, what obviously looks very nice and fits the whole concept perfectly.
If you may remember, “Tales of the Coffin Born” was a story about certain professor, Ward was his name, who after losing his child at birth went mad and made some necromantical rites, in order to bring his son back to life. He succeeded and thus the son was “alive”, but in reality he was nothing more than a monster, cruel and terrifying, a killer. Ward was mad and the story gets really creepy since then. The introduction of “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” says that Ward burnt his house down, but an excavation began in the ruins of his mansion. The university people, who started to dig there found some horrifying things, like the maze of torment, lots of corpses, three clay tablets from the Cthonian era as well as professor Ward’s journal and huge occult library (at the same time there were no bodies of the Ward family in the tomb). The expedition from University was then sent to a location on an Icelandic island… Out of 22 people, who were sent, only one survives and his name was Mason Hamilton. He was found mentally insane and charged guilty of the murder of the 21 people. This is where the story of “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” begins… the concept of the album is nothing more than a statement of Hamilton, who’s telling what happened on that island. His recollections are creepy and hard to believe. Whole concept for the album is deeply rooted in Cthulhu mythology and describes some weird stories… Toads, Mushroom People, Gigantic Spiders… And that is only a matter of taste, if you prefer this story over the one from the debut LP. Personally I liked “Tales of the Coffin Born” more, it was more creepy and terrifying, but sure, “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” is also fine. I do admire Kam Lee’s imagination and talent for creating such a killer concept albums. As I already said, he is King Diamond of death metal to me. And that’s a compliment!
The concept for “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” is one thing, another is the music, which obviously I hoped to pick up from where the previous LP ended, but also extend the musical direction of it. Now, after listening to this album few times I can say that from one hand I like it a lot, there are plenty of cool death metal riffs and songs, but from the other hand again I must admit that I prefer the music from the debut more. Sure, style wise this is pretty much the same kind of thing – monstrous, epic death metal, but what I loved about “Tales of the Coffin Born” was how well the album was composed and fitted the lyrics. All songs had interludes, where Professor Ward was reading some parts of his diary and the whole atmosphere of the music was just killer, thrilling and sinister as hell, exactly what I would love to hear from a horror death metal album. In that case I’m afraid that “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” seems to be like a standard death metal record, with a collection of better or worse songs. The Grotesquery has lost a lot of the atmosphere, which is really sad. Of course it would also be stupid to record an album, which would be exactly the same as the previous one, but I really expected something more hmm… imaginary, if you know what I mean.
Don’t take all that so negatively though. “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” is still damn good LP. There are plenty of killer songs there, some of which probably are the best tunes and riffs, which The Grotesquery has composed so far. As an example let me bring “The Madness (of Mason Hamilton)” or “Arrival: Tomb of Toads” for instance – two excellent pieces. If you like your Bolt Thrower kind of death metal, with sort of marching death metal rhythms, straight forward riffing and that feeling, which just makes you bang your head, then you’ll definitely like this album a lot. “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” also brings a lot of more varied songs, some of which are more melodious or doomy, like “The Cthulhu Prophecy” and “Tsathoggua – The Black God of N’Kai”. There are plenty of catchy riffs on the album, hooks, memorable parts and fantastic vocal delivery of Kam Lee (sometimes he sounds to me like Glen Benton!). Unfortunately the closer to the end, the more I become… hmm, I don’t wanna say bored, but maybe less impressed and unfocused. Maybe there are simply too many songs on the album, but when “Dreams of Terrors in Darkness and Horrors out of the Shadows” begins I almost feel tired of it. Luckily this feeling is not so intense and basically I rather enjoy the album more than I just said. Besides, just before that there’s “Psychopompos Lamentations for a Dying World”, which is just a fast, excellent fucker.
So, I really want to recommend you getting BOTH The Grotesquery LPs. Treat them differently than the average death metal albums; read the story, try to capture the essence of it and the music and just enjoy it. “The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales” may have slightly disappointed me, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. it is very good album, probably one of the best, which came out recently, but my expectations are still very high for both Lee and Johansson.
Standout tracks: “The Madness (of Mason Hamilton)”, “Arrival: Tomb of Toads”, “Psychopompos Lamentations for a Dying World”, “Beware They Who Burrow Beneath”
Tales of the Coffin Born was an elaborately narrated and woven death metal blunt object. Kam and Rogga tearing up some olskool death metal beatdowns accompanied by an Evil Dead 2 influenced narration banging on about Poe-influenced horrors and woes - bit of a treat for the bookwormish death metal nerd. The follow-up The Facts and Terrifying Testament of Mason Hamilton: Tsathoggua Tales takes itself even more tongue-in-cheek seriously, with a booklet laid out like a case file (photos, newspaper cuttings, cheesy "patient descriptions" of the band members and so forth) to accompany the B-movie mouthfuls that are the album and song titles. For example, 'Chapter IV (The Caverns): Among Black Slime and Mushroom People'. You've got to be shitting me. That's terrific.
It's basically about this bloke who goes to an island, sees some Lovecraftian shiz going down, goes bonkers and ends up in both the news and the nuthouse. So if you're a fan of the occult, Nihilist, Dismember and writers with the initials H.P., you're already on board. It's morbid early '90s death metal and monster stories gone mad, so murder and mayhem as standard.
The churning mid-paced pummel that characterized songs like 'Coffin Birth' is back to give the d-beat based carnage some kind of frame, and Rogga's violently inflected Swedeath riffs do the job proper. Like what Entrails are doing but with a bit more leery moon-touched insanity in there. 'Entrapped Within Atlach' features my favourite of the raging Left Hand Path riffs here, likely to have you cheerily bloodying your forehead against your bedroom walls and/ or surrounding humans as you listen. 'Arrival: Tomb of Toads' has a great chug going on, not to mention a real catchy, stomping motif that mashes you up in the middle. 'Amongst Black Slime and Mushroom People' not only takes the cake for best song title but has another particularly savage chugging armour. That's basically what this record is - bit of thrusty Bolt Thrower pounding, Swedish d-beats, frowny-face tremolo riffs and lots of booming chasmic slow sequences.
The drums pound along crisply, nothing world-changing but there's an efficient killing machine beneath the rumpled heavy hide of guitars and bass that is this album's primary weapon. The propulsive 'Psychopompos Lamentations of a Dying World' has a smattering of blasts but otherwise its fairly rhythmic stuff. The production is pretty heavy hitting, clear and distinct but with a massive guitar tone. Leveling is good with Kam and Rogga managing to avoid drowning one another out.
Kam Lee puts in probably the most noticeably superior performance compared to lat time round. He's a bawling, raging madman on this release, giving his harsh growls a bit of a serial killer on the rampage feel. Incensed, maddened chants on 'A Terrifying Testament' and Chthonic incantations on a couple tracks later on are among his moments of originality, otherwise low register threats and some splattering rasps are par for the course.
One thing it's sorta missing is the harrowing epics the debut ended with, namely 'Sepulcher Macabre' and 'Fall of the House of the Grotesque'. In fact the album seems to get faster as it goes on, rather than again leading to a miserably hued epic climax. 'Gaze of Ghatanothoa' has a more rousing aspect to its tremolo progressions,which works, but the near seven-minute closer 'Dreams of Terrors in Darkness and Horrors out of Shadows' just sort of rambles on. Probably the only damp moment moment here, until the fists in the air climax that is, which gives it the sort of redemption I'm guessing never availed Mr. Hamilton.
It doesn't beat you quite as black and blue with earworm hooks and catchy riffs like its bristling predecessor, which I still return to every now and again, but it does make for a great sequel, and The Grotesquery are still one of the more distinctive acts in the crowded old school death metal revival. It's got enough killer moments in terms of neck-snapping riffs and thuggish death metal breaks to keep you titillated if the last one had you going nuts. I mean it's basically the direct follow-up with no lapse in bile and songwriting capacity. The Grotesquery are just doing this old school death metal thing right, if you ask me.