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Through the Norwegian death looking glass - 90%

blackthrash84, February 19th, 2009

This may not be the place one might expect to find some incredibly well-constructed, innovative and quite memorable death metal - from some early 90s Norwegian band's demo material - but truth be told, it's all here.

Obviously this band has attracted much more attention since than it could have in its short and cathartic lifespan due to many of the members' later projects. But really the only way in which these recordings relate to the later work of the players' is as an early - primordial even - document of the scene they helped create.

I, for one, am not a Norse-core nut. The ridiculous image corpse-painted of that whole scene by the media has long since been demystified for me and a lot of the music just doesn't present too much integrity to me. That said I will always appreciate much of the wonderful contributions many of those bands made to the black metal genre (ie. Burzum, Mayhem, Emperor (kinda) etc.). However, I'm not about to worship just anything that comes from there, in fact I can't really even call myself an Immortal fan.

But as I already mentioned none of this really has anything to do with the fact that this particular act was once a mighty, if unrecognized force in early 90s death metal. It's actually mind-blowing how unique and un-contrived most of the stuff here is. But anyways, seeing as this is just a bunch of demos it makes the most sense just to break it down song by song.

Alright, first off we have the sinister opening of 'Abduction of Limbs'. Will the commanding evil power of that opening riff ever go away? Not likely. Man, that REVERB! That is probably the only riff that makes me want to club someone with a tombstone. Quite bizarre, though, the riff has this totally undefinable quality to it. It just doesn't fully lend itself to black metal but it is not standard death fare either. Almost signifies the dawning of a new era of death metal, the 90s, where riffs are no longer solely thrash-based. Also reminds me a lot of Incantation, the Americans who got their start around the same time. They pop up later on too... This tune immediately accelerates into some truly grim blasting with blackened barking. Still something doesn't sound right and I'm forced to call this death, very advanced death for its time really.

Next up these guys proceed to raise the bar with the humorously titled 'Annoying Individual'. This is probably a song inspired by all the assholes one sees in a day out and about. This one really makes me feel righteous on an uncomfortably packed subway. It's hard to restrain myself at about the 50 second mark when, coming straight out of some more grim blasting, these guys launch into the catchiest trio of riffs in a death metal song. DAMN! Then comes 'Skin and Bones' which keeps up the blasting tempo and has some rocking mid sections too. That's right, these guys ROCK as well as blast, and a lot more too! 'Skin and Bones' finishes off their 1990 demo on a good note.

And then, a total curveball. Is that death growling? Down-tuned guitar? Is this the same fucking band? Hell yeah. Here's where you really get a dose of just how talented and heavy these fuckers are. I'm not sure how many bands were actually playing this type of sludgy, heavy as fuck death metal in '91 but I find it hard to believe anyone was doing it quite like these guys. 'Haunted' has some great doomy overtones but the show-stopper in this set for me has always been 'Incantation'. I told you they'd be back! I really can't compare these guys to anybody else who was around at the time. They're similarly technical, blasty and still pure fuckin' death. But this tune just takes the cake... and inhales it. I'm not sure whether or not Old Funeral had heard Incantation at the time they wrote this number but it would make more than a fine tribute and, had it been written a couple years earlier, would have been fitting inspiration for the American death gods.

I think the band fully comes into their own with the following track, 'Devoured Carcass'. This is truly original and crushing. Cool swinging rhythms. Death growls and blasts. Great riffing all around.

Track seven shows a slight depletion in sound quality, which is strange as it was recorded after the previous tracks. But just as some of the clarity and most of the reverb of the first demo disappear on tracks 4 though 6, this number is a little muddier than the last. But it is no real detriment. This one was recorded the same year and with the same line-up as the last three and does its part to uphold the songwriting quality of the preceding tracks, its just a little less crushing and a bit meandering.

One thing I should mention that I find curious is how seemingly counter-intuitively this band developed over the years. As I stated there is the unexplained descent in production which occurs quite linearly with through chronology. This could just be a testament to how costly it is to be involved in a musical act that never makes it. But then there is the unprecedented progression in their sound.

The first three songs represent a very unique and well-defined niche that borders black and death metal, while clearly inspired by what was going on in the American scene at that time. The following four tracks present a refined and original but completely different and more focused death metal sound. The remainder of the tracks (save the live rendition of 'Devoured Carcass') show another complete change of direction.

I don't really know what to label these songs as other than lethargic black metal or even blackened gothic-metal. They are all kind of repetitive and basically take the polar opposite approach from the "never play the same time signature two bars in a row", frantic, blast beat laden down-tuned death metal of the previous demos. I am personally not really blown away by these tracks, but I happily listen to them to hear the live track at the end and they're palatable enough for me not to immediately turn off the CD. 'Into Hades' is the heaviest of these tracks and a bit more black metal than the rest of the set while 'My Tyrant Grace' is based around quite a solid and memorable riff. Truth be told the latter is quite catchy and powerful.

I get the feeling that by this point in their career the scene in Norway was growing a bit more rapidly and its influence was being felt greatly as it came more and more into the limelight. Perhaps Old Funeral felt they should be making music associated more closely with their culture at the time.

Whatever way you look at it there is some really inventive early death here and much more concentrated effort and memorable content than one might expect to find on a collection of demos. I’m quite positive that anyone into American death metal from this period - such as Morbid Angel, Incantation, Death, Massacre, etc. - will be pleasantly surprised to pick this up.