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groundbreaking, but a bit of a mixed bag - 68%

TrooperEd, May 27th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2005, CD, CD-Maximum (Reissue, Remastered)

Picked this up out of respect for one recently departed Frank "Killjoy" Pucci. I figured hey, it's supposedly classic death metal, released (arguably) the year the sub-genre was born, and it's one of the first examples of horror and death metal. What could possibly go wrong? The answer is, a couple of things.

The first problem greets us right off the bat is that this supposed collection of odes to zombies, horror and the dead starts off with....two minutes of acoustic guitar. Some would argue that this sort of thing sets up atmosphere, which would be fine, if right afterwards we didn't get another atmospheric introduction which goes on for almost another two minutes. Odens Ride Over Nordland is shorter than these two intros. My guess was the intent was to establish a Night of the Living Dead motif, where the day starts like any other before things go horribly wrong, but that's the sort of thing that needs to be heard AND seen. Granted, the second intro is much more appropriate to this type of music than the first, but by making the listener (a death metal listener no less) wait this long, you set high expectations for yourself that can be almost impossible to deliver. Thank God for the iTunes start and stop options, or I probably wouldn't be reaching for this very often.

When the music does kick in proper, we come to our second issue: the mix. The production itself isn't bad, and if you're one of those people who abhor the Morrisound/Scott Burns production, you'll swear this is instantly superior. I'm all for raw production in death metal, and I will say I like the guitar tone on this album, which is a mixture of crunch, Marshall amps and cabinets, along with a heap of reverb. This gives it a death-thrash feeling. However, it seems no matter what they aren't quite loud enough, a problem exacerbated by Killjoy's weird placement in the mix (more on that later). It's amazing how with a good mix there are little details you don't notice but with a faulty one you come to appreciate them. The drums sound fine, but they do have a cardboard sound to them, especially on the tom-toms. I do not consider that type of sound a flaw, but there are people who do, and I'd be remiss to not point that out with this review.

Then there's the matter of Frank's vocals themselves, which feel almost like raspy incantations rather than the demented roars of Jeff Becerra and Chuck Schuldiner. They are considerably less in-your-face in this regard. The best thing I can compare them to are David Vincent's vocals on Altars of Madness. I imagine he heard these vocals and thought while they sounded evil, he could make them sound more evil, which in my opinion he did. Concerning the album's mix, Killjoy doesn't really feel like he's with the band. Not in an off-time sense, but more like there's a type of soundproofing that keeps him from coalescing with the music. With death metal, and all types of metal really, you want the vocals to feel like they're in the eye of the storm, and that the vocalist is cutting through to deliver his odes and curses to the listener.

Another issue that I can really only refer to as "abortion pains" is that there are songwriting ideas here that just don't work. The clunky drum and bass sections of Terminal Vision comes to mind. As an intro it's an ok setup to a decent zombie doom bite, as well as a very creepy riff around the 0:36 mark, but then they bring it back after hyper-fast assault around 1:40. It really halts the song's momentum, almost as if they were shushing each other as the cops were passing by. Then there's Beyond and Back, which features an acoustic breakdown of all things before the first two minutes are up. The song rebuilds itself decently around the passage, but this sort of thing just doesn't belong in death metal. Hell I'm pressed to think of examples of metal where it does belong.

The highlight of the album is Mental Decay, which introduces itself with an almost Venom feel to it. A pumping kick drum demands the listener clap his hands or pump his fist in the air in time before giving way to a more mid-paced attack. Honestly, this gives the song good commercial potential, particularly if there was a music video in a club made from it. Don't let that description discourage you, as there are plenty of twisting zombie licks to grab at you to try and rip you apart. Bleeding Torment is typical of this album, with it's controlled thrash assault that gives way to a more vicious attack about 90 seconds in.

I don't want to take too much away from Season Of The Dead. It beat Scream Bloody Gore to store shelves by about three months. Even if it didn't, the fact that this came out in 1987 proves that it's still fairly innovative. However, it feels more innovative in that it shows mistakes being made and inspired most death devotees to correct those ideas rather than embellish them. I'm afraid this is a lost gem for a reason. For hardcore death metal historians only.

Between proto-death metal and actual death metal - 87%

Hellish_Torture, December 28th, 2014

1987 is often considered as the year when the very first death metal full-lengths were released, after some years of demos and EPs. There’s still a strong debate around this matter: most people consider Death’s “Scream Bloody Gore” as the first “pure” death metal album of all times, but some other people claim the primacy of other bands. One of these bands is Necrophagia, whose debut “Season of the Dead” came out few months before “Scream Bloody Gore”. Actually, Necrophagia had recorded in 1986 a first full-length, “Ready for Death” which saw the light only in 1990, and the style offered by this album was clearly death metal. But “Season of the Dead”, which is theoretically considered as the first death metal album of all times by some people, actually needs some more caution about genre labels.

Well... this album, in my ears, doesn’t sound exactly like pure death metal, but calling it just a proto-death metal album on the par with Possessed, Kreator, Sepultura and similar names would be extremely reductive. I’d almost define it as the final bridge between proto-death metal (consisting in all those extreme thrash bands of that time) and actual death metal (“Scream Bloody Gore”). This band clearly took much inspiration from horror movies, contributing a lot to influence the whole death metal imagery; the horror element, beyond the gory lyrics and the awesome zombie-like artwork, is findable also in the numerous samples from cult movies and the massive organ parts put here and there to accentuate the creepy atmosphere, in a perfect “vintage horror” fashion: it’s the case of the gloomy intro track “Season of the Dead”.

The music is far less raw and fast in comparison to that of “Ready for Death”. Most of these compositions are very complex and developed, featuring tons of various ideas, riffs and tempo changes. First of all, forget to find hyper-fast blast-beats on this record: on the contrary, there’s a strong tendency to double-bass-driven cavalcades and doomy parts, and even most of the up-tempos/blast-beats have a pretty “moderated” pace in comparison to other contemporary stuff; it’s clear that the band, at that time, was aiming for a different approach, balancing brutality and creepy atmospheres in a perfect equilibrium. Both these components are mostly dominated by the guitar parts, making this a very varied album.

Remember an important factor: the riffs, structurally speaking, have way more in common with thrash, rather than with death metal. Even “Pleasure to Kill” and “Bestial Devastation”, two supposed proto-death metal records, sound closer to death metal than this in some points. However, I still have to admit that the band places its own trademark style on these riffs, sounding different from common thrash metal (even from those thrash bands that, in those years, were considered to be pretty extreme): regardless of the speed and the techniques of the riffs, all of them possess a very dark, gloomy and morbid feeling which sounds completely unusual: the riffs of songs like “Ancient Slumber” manage to come up with some of the most horrific atmospheres ever heard until then, and on “Mental Decay” you will even find a mid-paced riff that reminds vaguely to what Schizo was doing in the same period with songs like “Psycho Terror”. However, fast parts aren’t absent: listen to the awesome sharp break of “Bleeding Torment”, the diabolical and technical riff of “Painful Discharge”, the brutal riffage of “Abomination” and “Terminal Visions”, the spine-chilling high-pitched riffs of “Mental Decay” or the wicked assault of “Beyond and Back” (where you will even find a riff that almost seems to anticipate Merciless’ riffing style).

Despite the riffs being already pretty fucking morbid, one of the main forces of the album is the use of excellent melodies and solos. Rather than opting for a dissonant style (which, however, is still present in some parts), the band decides to stick mostly to a melodic style, but also adapting it to the horror nature of the record in a creative and genial way. And so, the guitar melodies play a very important role on this record, often empowering the riffs (see the effectiveness of the solos put over some riffs of “Ancient Slumber”). Right from the first proper song, “Forbidden Pleasure”, you notice the importance of high-pitched guitar phrasings to increase the feeling of these compositions. The solos sound fucking sick throughout the whole record, whatever they have an accentuated melodic edge or not; but it’s when the songs slow down that the morbid atmosphere is perfectly expressed. The absolutely creepy intros of “Terminal Visions” and “Mental Decay”, or the incredible slow section of “Insane for Blood” (which continues in an even slower and creepier part filled with spine-chilling evil voices), are perfect examples of this formula.

A factor that brings this album definitely closer to death metal is Killjoy’s vocal performance. It’s definitely a growl, and a very personal one: it sounds absolutely sick, diabolical and inhuman, in a total different way than how Chuck Schuldiner’s or John Tardy’s growls do. Killjoy is one of those vocalists you can’t perfectly classify in a precise and definite style: suffice it to say that his vocals fit perfectly in the horror context of this record, and bring the horrific vibe coveted by the band to a higher level.

In conclusion, I’m really upset about how to collocate “Season of the Dead” in the “proto-death metal/old school death metal” spectrum. It seems to stay in the middle of the road, though being an excellent work on its own. So, we better don’t argue about the categorization and just enjoy this record for what it is: a brilliant piece of horrific late-80s extreme metal, created by a band which possessed a unique vision about horror imagery, and brought it to life in a very elegant, consistent and personal way, influencing tons of future death metal bands. However, if you’d like to hear the absolute peak of Necrophagia’s fascination with gloomy horror atmospheres, you should purchase “Holocausto de la Morte”, while if you want to hear the band at its rawest, fastest and sickest performance ever, “Ready for Death” is what you need.

Underrated and Overlooked Classic - 95%

TheZombieXecutioner, December 23rd, 2012

Based out of Ohio, Necrophagia is one of the earliest if not the earliest death metal band. Disbanding after only releasing one stellar full length that showed some true potential in the band. Displaying some amazing riffs, creepy vocals, and horror inspired lyrics they seemed to be unique for their time, but never got a chance to fully show their talent. That being said on this debut they show a great deal of talent and creative music that is a must hear for old school death metal fans.

Riifs. This album has got them by the fuck load, and everyone is memorable and haunting. Starting with "Forbidden Pleasure" and its great crawling chord progression. "Bleeding Torment" gives a great look into their faster, thrash oriented riffs that are rather enjoyable. Later on in the middle section of the same song they show their true talent of giving great catchy riffs. "Painful Discharge" is another catchy tune that has some great hooks and even a Kreator like intro. The band also shows some slower riffs on "Ancient Slumber" that bring the whole "Evil Dead" feeling to life. Besides the riffs this record has some great Slayer-like solos that totally rule. "Bleeding Torment" and "Painful Discharge" are great examples of a speedy solos that give great chaotic and climatic feeling to the songs. Interestingly guitarist Larry Madison also shows a great deal of acoustic guitar that works perfectly in the opening track "Season of the Dead" and the middle section of "Beyond and Back", which has a great lead over it that is truly haunting. The guitar work can also get complex at times, especially in the last two track "Painful Discharge" and "Beyond and Back". Overall the guitar work is top and the only real issue is they are kind of quite, but just turn the volume all the way up and you shouldn't have much of a problem.

Killjoy makes for a great vocalist in these recording. Provided with a rusty creepy voice that sounds like a rotting zombie was shuffled into the studio to supply vocals, Killjoy really fits well with the music and lyrical content. Mostly telling horror stories based on death, murder, zombies, and even "Evil Dead". The lyrics can be cheese, but what do you expect? They are actually rather fun with lines like, "Walk among the night if you dare I have no name I'm your worst fucking nightmare" and "The need to feel you suffer Grows stronger everyday The hatred on my face Will bring you to your grave."

Bill James does a solid job on bass giving some supportive lines on "Forbidden Please" and "Painful Discharge" The bass is surprisingly audible and can be heard grinding in the back supporting the guitars on "Abomination" and very prominently on "Terminal Vision" and even on "Insane for Blood". The bass tone is rather nice, very clean, no muddy distortion. The drums are also very great. Giving great simple beats on a kit that sounds as if it was decaying in the studio. This isn't a bad thing at all, I actually really love the rusty and simple beats on this record. "Reincarnation" has some nice rotting rolls and some clean beats to show. "Ancient Slumber" has a very nice drum break that is very simple. yet I don't know why i like it so much.

In the end this album is incredible underrated and overlooked, as is the band. The riffs rule, the drums and bass are solid, and who wouldn't want to hear a zombie as a singer? Showing some great talent and potential, Necrophagia should definitely be checked out by an metal head wanting to hear some of the earliest forms of death metal and horror lyrics.

An Under-Rated Classic Debut! - 90%

SoulCancer, November 29th, 2009

Remember when death metal was something new, and there weren't any clone bands? You know, that era where everyone was still trying to really define what death metal was? Necrophagia are one of those bands that don't sound like anyone else at the time, and it worked out really well for them on Season of the Dead.

Season of the Dead, if you really wanted to pin it down to one thing, was horror movie inspired death metal. There are songs about zombies, mutants, killers from slasher movies, and even some dedicated to Evil Dead (Ancient Slumber) and Bela Lugosi (Insane for Blood). Compared to other bands at the time (Mantas / Death, Xecutioner / Obituary, Morbid Angel, and so on), the content wasn't that much different, but the Satan card is never really played.

But it all comes down to the music for this one: instrumentally, this is a heavier version of thrash metal along with enough distortion and speed to propel it past your typical thrash at the time. Also of note is the unconventional use, in that era, of keyboards, acoustic guitars, electronic effects on vocals, tape slowing, and time changes all the while maintaining a foreboding atmosphere.

Finally, Killjoy's vocals were very unique - they're half spoken, half throaty rasp that one would imagine would be more fitting for a zombie, or maybe even a black metal vocalist? Quorthon and Mayhem are both thanked in the credits, but it's not a far stretch to say that every band they could think of was thanked - the "thanks" takes the entire two internal pages of my copy! Either way, no death metal vocalist sounded like this, and made for a unique and interesting album.

Starting from the beginning, we're taken on a journey. We are lulled in by the calm, yet dark acoustic into before Forbidden Pleasure kicks in, taking us to a sonic slasher flick with the occasional zombie chewing up the scenery. I hesitate to call this "death metal", because it stood out from the rest of the pack. The riffs themselves sometimes sound like they were lifted from horror movie soundtracks - possibly Goblin was an influence in that respect. But from start to finish, this is a solid album that deserves to be listened to from start to finish, as there isn't one filler track here. All of the riffs, leads, drumming, vocals, bass playing (and yes, you can hear the bassist - clearly) and effects are a complete work that works more effectively as a whole album rather than a collection of songs.

If I had to nitpick, I'd say that Killjoy's vocals aren't for everyone on this release. While he would further develop and expand on his style in later years, it's here where something new is being created: something untouched, untried and unheard of. And there are effects on about 20% of the vocals, so it's not a wholly natural performance. However, watching Dawn of the Dead demands you just saw a zombie take a man off of a motorcycle and eat him in the middle of a mall, and the Friday the 13th movies demand you believe Jason is still alive after being shot, stabbed, hung, bludgeoned, beaten and dismembered. With that in mind, the vocals fit perfectly.

This is a necessary album for any true old school death metal fan to have in their collection, as it helped in the development of a sound that, once cut into form, became too common. A lot of the death metal bands of today are clones of one of the original masters and are therefore diluted versions of a potent drug. Season of the Dead, then, is the same drug in concentrated form.

And, if you really had to pick stand-out songs (a problem since they all stand out for me), listen to Season of the Dead / Forbidden Pleasure (they're both track 1 on my CD), Insane for Blood, Ancient Slumber, Mental Decay and Terminal Vision. But you're cheating yourself if you don't listen to the whole album and fully experience it.

Strong contender against Scream Bloody Gore? - 90%

Destroyeroftheweak, April 14th, 2007

So, I was reading up on death metal history and I stumble upon Necrophagia's Season of the Dead. I take a huge liking to old death or death/thrash albums like Pestilence, Death, Morbid Angel, etc. I download this album and I find the most brutal name on the album, "Insane for Blood". I begin the song...and wow, i'm astonished on how brutal this is for 1987. It's a little more doomy type than the more brutal thrash style in the ways of Scream Bloody Gore. Another thing I notice is the vocal style, probably the most brutal and evil vocals i've heard besides from Sarcofago's INRI.

The guitar work is fast and evil, giving off a feeling of murder, evil, and just carnage. The recording on this album is well...near terrible, mainly for the drums. The drumming is somewhat boring, it's like the drummer couldn't think of anything for the songs so he just improvised. The drumming is very slow, the total opposite of what the drumming should be. With these brutal and evil riffs, you need good fast brutal drumming. The recording and drumming is basically the only faults on this album.

Overall, this is an excellent album. From the brutal riffs to the evil hellish vocals from Killjoy (?). This is a must have for death metal fans, it's not a real headbanger as much as it is to mosh or to just murder to. Excellent album...well, the only excellent album from Necrophagia, sadly.

Forbidden Pleasure - 90%

Byrgan, April 15th, 2005

Necrophagia dates back to 1984 and comes from the Midwestern state of Ohio in the US of A. A band that put out multiple demos prior to their '87 debut here: Season of the Dead. Shortly after this album the band would split for some time, and be later reformed with only the original singer Killjoy.

The main production point on SOTD was to create a horror movie like atmosphere, with the instrumentation of dark and deadly death-thrash. Just like a horror movie, you need effects to create a shadowed atmosphere. Some would suggest plenty of fog and plenty of blood. A translation of this would be reverb to distort, and bloody lyrics to disgust. Reverb is blanketed on top of every instrument, as well as other uncanny, cloaking effects, and loads of distortion. To add a few twists and turns, there are sound bits panned across the recording: one being the sounds of bats chirping and flapping their wings, and the other being a sample from the early 80's movie The Evil Dead. Another stand out aspect is on the first track, which has an astounding instrumental piece, streamlined with clean guitars and an eerie choir to back it up; then, to slash its way into your pounding heart, a mid-song transition of their classic thrashy death metal sound to begin the countdown of the album.

The first instrument to give the breath of life, but to blacken your lungs and cause death by metal is the guitars. Madison's beastly guitar playing will go from extreme double picked sections to dual guitar lines. The dual guitar riffs bleed through towards the final breath of the album. The best part about the guitars is the production. There's so much reverb, that it gives the effect of a near-dark, noisome, creepy-creaking house, with you fumbling in a panic stricken commotion at each unknown noise passing by you at closer and closer intervals. When he pulls out solos, which is showcased about every other song, the sound level usually takes over and becomes louder than the rest. The complexity isn't really there but the forethought is. The bass guitar sounds like it might have a slight distortion added. Usually it can be heard underneath the electric guitars playing along with a basic rhythm, and during some highlighted sections as well.

First off, and I hate to say it: the drums are the weakest link of the album. Sound-wise they are great, being loaded with surplus amounts of effects like the rest. But they lack a steadied direction. For the most part he is on time, but he just hits simple fills and breaks and 'just passes' to get the job done. No leading adventurousness, just a following along to the main expeditionaries. However, here and there he abuses the double bass pedals. And during some slower parts he uses the toms to do simple patterned beats to keep the vocals in check. Killjoy's voice is the last demolishing piece to wield its blood-stained hammer. The weirdest part about this record is the transition of the vocals. The demos retain raspy vocals and screams but are still on time with the rest of the music. Although, here on Season of the Dead he changed it up, but luckily not for the worst. Basically his vocals became more or less raspified talking. Stylistically when the music is playing he tells his gore-obsessed tale overtop, and doesn't worry about were he vocalizes. He begins and ends with the start and finish of riffs, but in between, that's another story. To me, personally, I can't complain. Because it adds to the atmosphere and you feel as if you have a narrator as you are slowly dying in a graveyard full of surreal noises and melodies.

My least bit of a complaint is Joe Blazer's less than heavy drum fills. His sound is great, it is just he could have been more structured with the rest of the music. The other side of this output is a great death-thrash release. From the reverb intoxicated guitars to the raspy, narrative-like vocals to the more than present bass guitar. Season of the Dead is a high recommendation in my book. Later listening to the original LP, compared to the CD, it has a slightly rougher sound quality to it. Whichever version someone gets their talons on, they can hear an atmospheric horror themed album, from the production to the instruments, and from the titles to the lyrics. Season of the Dead was like a score for a moody horror movie that never came out. Or even comparative to a soundtracked read along for a short atmospheric horror novel.

eleven delicious courses of blood and grue - 86%

necron313, September 15th, 2004

"Season of the Dead", as might be inferred from the band name, is a highly nutritious blend of vitamin-enriched gore and sickness served on a savory organic bed of mid-to-late 80's death metal. Peculiarly, Necrophagia (and most prominently, their diminutive, splatter-freak-till-death-and-beyond vocalist, Killjoy) never obtained the popular acclaim of similarly-styled bands emerging in the same sliver of time (Morbid Angel, Obituary, Death etc).

One or two spins of the gaping, festering zombified nightmare that is "Season of the Dead" may convince the hapless listener that this album would have been a heinous and fitting death-metal soundtrack to "Evil Dead" or any of the better zombie flicks of the period. The opening (and title) track, is a haunted, melancholic mood-setting acoustic piece that sedates the listener and taps into the darkest reaches of the imagination - whispering of lonely autumn skies, desolate cornfields, graves that will soon open from within, and the unspeakable mockeries of nature which will soon emerge from them in a mindless, perverted hunt for the savory and exquisite entrails of Homo sapiens. :::::licking chops:::::

For those entirely unfamiliar with the Necrophagia sound, songs such as "Ancient Slumber" , "Reincarnation" "Forbidden Pleasure" and "Terminal Vision" offer up a sense of the slow, purposeful and dreadfully painful manner in which Necrophagia devour their victims; Guitarist Larry Madison's riffs are intentionally drudgerous, heavy and belabored. Joe Blazer's drumming has a droning, throbbing quality to it throughout the album, adding to the overall cobwebbed, murky, suspensful feeling of something(s) hideous this way coming. Tying this stinking, maggot-infested, centuried package together is the throaty, mocking, growled voice of Killjoy, which has an unrepentant and inexplicably whispery quality to it throughout. The subdued, dusty and vault-shuttered atmosphere of this album are enhanced by lousy production and an interspersal of delightful and uplifting effects such as (what sounds like) stonework being gradually hauled away from a mausoleum-door and a serenading swarm of ravenous bats flying overhead.

:::shudders uncontrollably::::

This album is arguably the zenith of Necrophagia's works to date.
It is an exaggeratedly creepy, fun, B-grade gore-drenched stomachfull of low-key, somberly guitar-driven originals pulled together by one of early death-metal's most folkloric prognosticators of pus and putrescence (Killjoy). If you like Necrophagia, S.O.T.D. has been in a black trophy in your collection for years; if you're curious, go out and get it before it shambles horribly to your doorstep and gets you.