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Thou Shalt Suffer was a pre-Emperor death metal project with Ihsahn on vocals and keyboards and Sammoth on drums, as well as Ildjarn on bass and some lesser known fellow on guitar. Because of the bands associated with them, the members and the country they come from (Norway) they're more or less tied up in black metal despite having none of its stylistic qualities. Really, Norway had very little going on for death metal in the explosion of bands that occurred in the late 80s and early 90s in neighbouring Sweden and Finland. So their material is a bit of a curiosity, and definitely an obscure gem for the underground death metal fan who would assume the guys in Emperor could only make wimpy synth-laden symphonic nonsense. Quite the opposite, they make some brutal, filthy, heavy, balls-out death metal on par with many of the Swedish and Finnish classics. The "Into the Woods of Belial" compilation album contains everything they recorded in 1991 as a death metal band (which for me is their true complete discography, as I basically ignore Ihsahn reclaiming this name for his lame ambient/neo-classical solo album).
The production here is down and dirty analog filth recorded for demo and rehearsal purposes (with the second demo getting its main release as a 7'' EP), and that's exactly what it should be. The riffs are mostly tremolo picked stuff played on the lower end of the spectrum, but even the high notes get buried in the low end low production filth. They also bring some brutal crushing chords and slower doomier parts, and consistently maintain a more dark and evil sound. I've heard oodles of demo stage old school death metal stuff, and unlike most these guys needed no preparation. They were delivering the goods right out of the gate. No lame little mundane or upbeat riffs or poor amateur attempts at leads here. It's all dark filth. The bass is distorted (which I really dig) and works into the low end frenzy of the guitar. The drums are well played with some interesting fills and other bits and pieces rather than repeating one beat or just blasting incessantly. Ihsahn's work on the album (vocals and keyboards) is a pretty big standout of their material. Normally I either despise or just tolerate death metal that makes frequent use of synths, but I like what Ihsahn does with em. He uses very eerie and simplistic sounds and sometimes goes into cacophonous offkey spasms of weird notes (much like Abruptum did on their monumental "Evil Genius" collection. In fact some riffs and songs are very Abruptum-like in their filth, heaviness and chaotic tendencies). His vocals are also well performed, ranging from throaty grunts and lower screams to more torturous high screams. The rehearsal tracks include an amusing outtake beginning with a burp and the final song of the album which mostly consists of harsh sounds on the synths with gurgling vocals and some pitch shifting.
Thou Shalt Suffer are quickly becoming a favourite of mine in the death metal genre, and it's a shame that their work, like the early work of Abruptum is more likely to be investigated by black metal fans with no ear for death metal than old school death metal fans. That's not to say that this stuff is necessarily "underrated", but it's not often you hear death metal fans bring em up. Anyhow, all the material on this collection is great and it embodies a lot of what I look for in death metal and music in general. I don't like Emperor at all so it was a bit shocking to see Ihsahn and Sammoth producing such high quality filth. I do however love Ildjarn so that was reason enough for me to check these guys out. I recommend this to fans of demo production old school death metal, especially the kind that's well written, interesting and unique. Get it now!
(originally written for Sputnik Music under the name noisymugwump)