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Good band, terrible drum production - 60%

robotiq, August 10th, 2022

The history of the death metal band known as Contagion (a.k.a. Funereal) gets murky after their excellent "Seclusion" demo. These guys continued to record for a few more years before folding, but the latency period between recordings and release dates is unclear. I don't know much about the circumstances behind this particular material (which now has the title of "Dark Visions Against an Illuminescent Sky"). Apparently this was a self-released EP at the time. If so, then I doubt the cover artwork shown here is contemporary (it looks suspiciously like late 90s Photoshop to me).

What is certain is that these three songs were recorded in a session from 1993, eventually appearing on the band’s eponymous retrospective compilation. Contagion sounds different here than on previous demos. The ultra-heavy death/doom of "Seclusion" is near-absent. The influence of bands like Autopsy, Winter and Celtic Frost is much less obvious than before. These songs are faster, more athletic and technical, more akin to Morbid Angel than anyone else. Some of the slower passages remind me of the lurching moments on "Covenant" and "Domination" (this EP is roughly contemporary with the former). Fans of the abstract side of old school American death metal, like early Immolation and Incantation, will feel at home.

The production is different from the demos too. It is clearer and more ‘professional' sounding than before. This is not necessarily a good thing. The guitar sounds fine. The vocals sound fine (although they are not as menacing, I think that they were done by a different person). The problem is the way the drums sound. It sucks, particularly compared to the off-time swagger of the “Seclusion” demo. The drumming on this EP has been robbed of everything. The snare makes a loud, annoying splash noise (with every hit being identical in volume). The cymbals are quiet, the double-kick is uniform and boring. Everything sounds condensed and flat. Sometimes I wonder whether this was partially recorded using an electronic (midi) drum-kit. I hate it.

This EP is a flawed but interesting old school death metal recording. Contagion were an above average death metal band with above average song-writing ability, but production they achieved here is below average. For me, the two demos are much more worthwhile. The band would continue for a couple more years under with the name of Funereal, and would record an album ("The Misery Season"). That album continues the vein of this EP, but has a better production and more songs. I suggest you listen to that album if you want some unknown and underrated death metal in the vein of Morbid Angel and early Immolation.