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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.