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Before Glen Benton, Providence, RI based Vital Remains was a solid blackened death metal band that, with their album “Into Cold Darkness” knew how to make superb blackened death metal. The compilation “Horrors of Hell” goes even before “Into Cold Darkness” to catalogue a time when Vital Remains was just beginning. Chronologically from newest to oldest, this compilation is an interesting look into a very talented but very underground band just starting out.
Beginning with two tracks from their 1991 7” album, “Black Mass”, the ambiance is created immediately with a very horror movie style opening with some Satanic chanting. The band starts off very aggressively. Though the drums are slower than the rest of the band, the guitars and vocals are obviously supposed to be the focal point as they whine and grind all through “Of Pure Unholyness”. The drums do kick in a little faster around the middle of the song, but mainly keep with a rather epic beat through most of the song. “Frozen Terror” starts off like a breakdown with some more guitar whining and grinding. This song has a much slower tempo than the above, but it kicks up around 1:08 and moves in nearly the same vein as “Black Mass” though it is obviously different from the previous, the similarities are striking.
The five tracks from Vital Remains 1990 album, “Excruciating Pain” are set off by “Human Sacrifice”. This song again begins this line of tracks with some interesting ambient music that sounds as though it is Pre-Christian era Middle Eastern. This album sounds much better produced than the previous when it finally kicks in and punishes throughout each track. 2:48 has a great climbing riff adding some suspense to the track and the vocals sound good and gutty, unlike the new monotone Benton growls. There is a really interesting solo around 4:00 that brings on the next blast of brutality to round out the song. Overall, “Human Sacrifice” is a good track, and stands out among the five from “Excruciating Pain”. “Fallen Angels” is another standout track. Sounding like something from Slayer’s “South of Heaven” or “Reign in Blood”, “Fallen Angels” comes on strong with a very solid thrash riff that definitely shows where their influence comes from. Vital Remains created a great chant song when they came up with “Fallen Angels” and it is something that any thrash fan would enjoy as it is so greatly influenced by the genre. The title track is also very solid and yet another great chant song. It seems that Vital Remains was more brutal in the old days than they are now.
The final six tracks are taken from Vital Remains’ 1989 demo, “Reduced to Ashes”, and album title that they share with brutal death metal band Deeds of Flesh. Like the two albums catalogued before them, this demo begins with a sound clip that sounds as though it was lifted from the horror film, “The Omen” to begin their title track, “Vital Remains”. Like the metal gods, Black Sabbath, Vital Remains have created an epic in their title track that does well to display the ability of the band and the influences that they represent in their music. This song is pure blackened death metal and again shows their thrash influence in nearly every riff they play. The only problem that plagues this section of the album is the terrible production, but since this is taken from their first demo, it is understandable that it wouldn’t sound as though a professional hired by a label produced it. Other than the production, these six tracks are amazing and seem to have had more thought put into them than their later tracks. Vital Remains struck gold when they wrote these tracks, from the insane riffing in “Smoldering Burial” to the intense black metal bass sound combo in “More Brains” to the machinegun sound of the title track, “Reduced to Ashes”, this is a very strong album.
In all, this is a really great listen if you are a Vital Remains fan and want to hear something from their early days but don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for their out of print albums. Comparing this to the new Vital Remains is tough to do seeing as there have been so many lineup and style changes, but if I were to choose one or the other, I would choose the old Vital Remains to the new iteration as Benton’s music has lost much of his talent to blasphemous theatrics that, though interesting and a good listen, are not as good as the very thrash influenced element added to the emerging blackened death metal sound that Vital Remains was going for in their early years.
"Horrors of Hell" is a demo compilation from Vital Remains' early days of the late 80's-early 90'. The cd includes two demos and two songs from a 7" single. These recordings are raw, demo-quality and go from latest to earliest. I would probably have put the earliest material first on the disc, but this doesn't affect the enjoyment. All the songs featured here are with original vocalist Jeff Gruslin, who was a fine DM singer for the band. The liner notes are well-written and explain the circumstances surrounding each recording.
Musically, you can hear that the band has grown a lot since the easly days. It's easy to hear the influences, and this would appeal to oldschool fans of bands like Death and Possessed. This is dirty and ugly 90's-style death metal. My personal favorite tracks are "More Brains" (an excellent sing-along chorus and a nice ode to zombie movies), "Slaughter Shack" (again the emphasis on horror movies), and "Excrutiating Pain," which has one of the best choruses I've heard in a long time:"Excrutiating Pain, upheaval of vomit, Excrutiating Pain, disemboweling stomach!" This is sung high-speed and is just hilarious and gross.
There's really no weak tracks on the album, but if someone is not familiar with the band I'd hardly recommend it as a starting point. If you enjoy all of Vital Remain's excellent recordings with their various singers, then you should pick this up asap and bang your head to some killer oldschool scary and Satanic death metal. Hail Satan, Hail Vital Remains!!