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"You want it Fuckin Fastahhhh"? - 77%

BassLord, October 17th, 2011

Necessity is often the mother of invention, and this theory applies to music of all styles and genres. I’m a firm believer that sometimes bands lacking in musical skill or technique make up for their shortcomings through the kind of sheer emotion, aggression, and creativity that many more polished bands can lack. Look at bands like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, bands who at their inception could barely play, but through sheer will were able to make records that pushed the boundaries of extremity in music like none before them. In the metal world, you’ve got bands like Venom and Hellhammer, who still continue to be respected and influential despite their sometimes gross incompetence.

All these acts rate pretty high up there on my list, so I guess I have a thing for bands with glaring flaws, but ones who play with passionate intensity and yearning to be different. N.Y.C. Mayhem certainly falls into this category, having created some of the earliest, most extreme music around anywhere.

By 1985 a new movement in music was growing, one that started on poorly recorded demo cassettes produced in skuzzy basements and garages, then leaking out to poison the world through the underground tape trading scene. While there were many great bands to arise from this movement and push the envelope of sonic intensity, few were able to survive their early demo stages(some like Death and Morbid Angel would endure to flourish during the early 90’s extreme metal boom), and many said their piece with only a demo or two). New York’s own Mayhem was one of said bands, with only a year of existence, and a couple eroding cassettes under their belts, they would never the less be whispered about in underground circles for decades, until this release.

Hell’s Headbangers, who remain a beacon of the old school traditions, saw fit to truly commemorate this often overlooked, but seriously crazy band, with a deluxe two cd retrospective collecting every track the band recorded, including both official demos, unreleased songs, and live material. Having heard this bands name for some time, but never actually hearing their music, I was greatly intrigued by the claims of this group being the fastest, most extreme band of the time period.

Though Mayhem’s career was indeed short, it was never the less a turbulent year for these young New Yorkers, with the band facing changing members, changing styles, and changing names, adding the pre-fix N.Y.C. to separate themselves from other bands with this name(N.Y.C. actually stood for Nationalist Youth Control, as well as their hometown). This set is divided into two discs, one being their metal sidel(as Mayhem), and the other with their crossover influenced tracks(as N.Y.C Mayhem). Splitting them up makes the material a little easier to digest, but this is seriously a lot of intense music to take in, and may take time to actually listen to everything.

The bands early style is what got them noticed in the underground at the time, aiming to double the speed and intensity of thrash bands like Slayer and Metallica. Mayhem took it to a whole new level, with angular riffing, relentless pounding drums, and harsh screaming. Many bands shared these characteristics at the time, but the main difference is the sheer speed of this material. Mayhem’s songs make nearly constant use of blast beats, and not just sped up thrash beats, REAL blast beats, making them one of the first bands to do so. The riffing is extremely sharp, alternating between catchy and epic sounding thrash, and brutal hardcore mosh parts. The vocals vary on each different recording session, but the early songs feature barking, near-death growls and raspy high pitched shrieks.

It’s all pretty fun and extreme stuff, but does require a great deal of patience from the listener. First of all, the sound quality on the first disk is pretty bad overall, going from atrociously hissy and thin on the early rehearsal, to acceptable but still very raw and muffled on the demo. The live show sounds pretty good, but the tape was clearly damaged and it shows from time to time, also the band takes like a four minute break between every song. Secondly, while the bands music at this time was very unique and unashamedly over the top, the band didn’t necessarily possess the chops to really do their material justice. The guitar is played quite proficiently, but the bass is often muddy and can lag slightly behind. Because the songs are so fast, the band has trouble with transitions, and so opts for mostly stop and start riffing, with cymbal chokes to change time and riff. They seem more manic because of this, but lack serious finesse.

The drumming, while aiming to be the fastest and most brutal of the time, is often painfully sloppy. He has the right ideas as far as method of execution, but at this stage really lacked the chops to keep the tempo so high. He tries really hard, but never gives himself space to breathe between the endless blasts and double barreled bass drum fury, in addition to the fact that he also has to handle the throat shredding vocals. But hey, few bands are very tight this early in their career, especially when they are pretty much inventing a new style.

Disk two opens in great fashion with the bands only other official tape. This release finds them re-hashing some of their earlier songs with a couple new ones, in an attempt to truly show what they are capable of. Though hardcore influences become very apparent at this point, the greatly improved sound quality and tightness of the band is pretty impressive. Tommy’s gained some serious stamina and can now blast with vigor, but his vocals take a turn towards a total hardcore style, shouting and bellowing in the true NYHC vein. The new vocals fit, but I think if Tommy kept screaming his head off this band could have been an early death metal phenomenon.

The remaining live and studio tracks find the band veering even more towards hardcore, while keeping their extremity. Songs become shorter and shorter, lyrics become pretty goofy and less metal influenced, and indeed the band’s image and attitude has lost that metal spirit. You can tell it’s the same band, but the influence, of D.R.I., C.O.C, and all the other acronym bands can be a little overbearing. Like S.O.D., the band now crams in tons of joke songs that often last only seconds. Also, some older songs are made shorter and re-titled to further weed out the metal side of the band (“Deathwish” becomes “Ripped to Shreds”, while “Taken by Storm” morphs into “Fill out the Form”).

Personally, I feel like this band could have been a leader in the metal underground, as their earlier material suggested they would be. But people change, and clearly these guys identified much more with the hardcore scene and lifestyle. Altogether, this is a pretty interesting package, complete with liner notes and flyers to bring you back to the glory days of the eighties underground. If you’re reading this, then like me, your probably pretty interested in the roots of extreme music, and don’t mind raw recordings, and on that level, this release is a fantastic glimpse into a band that was out blasting just about everybody. Just be warned that like me, you may find yourself easily favoring one disk over the other.