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Ten of the best metal albums of all time - Part 6 - 100%

droneriot, March 15th, 2015
Written based on this version: 1991, CD, Nuclear Blast

If I was going to attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the writings of H. P. Lovecraft in music I would probably go for some sort of blackened sludge metal with really downtuned guitars and a really slow tempo, with Portal-like guitar-bend swirls and an array of growls, snarls, hisses and moans for that slimey, tentacle-y sort of feel. And it would probably be godawful and completely miss the mark. But luckily that wouldn't be necessary, because the Lovecraft kind of atmosphere has already been captured perfectly in metal all the way back in 1991 by a "simple" death/thrash band with no need for any such gimmicks as the ones my often wandering mind concocted in the opening sentence.

This album is another fine example of a band doing everything right. I don't know how much creating a metal soundtrack to Lovecraft's stories is actually something the band set out to do, or how much this idea was attached to them in hindsight due to the nature of their lyrics and their art. However, whether it was the ultimate goal or a side-effect of the songwriting process, the band succeeded perfectly at creating the perfect kind of atmosphere for the subject matter. This is indeed accomplished not through the use of atmospheric gimmicks many modern bands would likely go for (and I know a few bands that do), but with beautiful subtlety. The focus is on creating an intense and riff-heavy death/thrash album, steamrolling it with atmospheric elements would only take away from that. Instead, the dark feel is interwoven into the structures with the utmost care and intricacy.

Even without the immersing atmosphere, Prophecies of a Dying World stands as a masterpiece in itself. The Revenant approach to death/thrash metal is one of a kind, even while using ingredients common around the time it was created. In its ferocity and aggression, as well as its darkness, a lot of parallels to death/thrash pioneers Possessed come to mind. There's a certain dedication to relentless force common to both artists. Pummeling rhythm guitars buzzsaw away over blisteringly fast-paced percussion while razor-sharp lead guitars perform the audial equivalent of cutting through flesh. All this is maintained at a very high level of quality of riffwriting. There's not a single weak spot in the riff department throughout the entirety of the album, everything maintains a maximum level of ferocity, aggression, darkness, but also catchiness as well as intelligence. Especially the latter two are rarely combined so seamlessly, with the vast majority of bands choosing to sacrifice one in favour of the other. The riffing on this album is about as top notch as you can get in the style of death/thrash metal, but it doesn't end there.

All-obliterating Possessed-like qualities are only one major element at work here. Another is an emphasis on dynamics that was popularised in thrash metal in the late 80s by many of the most famous bands, such as Slayer (on South of Heaven) or Metallica (on ...And Justice for All). And it is a common rule is metal that what works for more mainstream artists, more underground artists will hone to perfection. Revenant on this album are pretty much as close to perfection in the field of dynamics in thrash as anyone can be. And this is really what sets them apart from more "regular", Possessed-style of death/thrash. It doesn't just bludgeon the listener. It takes the listener on a journey through a dark, multi-layered, multi-faceted world, through constant changes in riffs, tempos and arrangements. All this without losing coherency for a second. They don't just go berserk, it is more akin to following a berserker through the numerous points in time and space and ups and downs of his life. Except in Revenant's case the berserker is not literally a Norse warrior on psychoactive drugs, but some bizarre, dark, slimey, unspeakable Lovecraftian creature from one of the higher dimensions of horror.

The subtle but intense otherworldly atmosphere comes in part from the perfect combination of pummeling Possessed-style ferocity with a sense of narrative dynamics approaching progressive forms of music. But on top of this backbone, the remaining ingredients really drive the point home, really define this music as something you would hear inside your head if you ended up inside an H. P. Lovecraft story. The vocals certainly are a big factor in aiding this type of atmosphere that just does not seem right in this world. They, too, bear resemblences to Possessed, but have a much darker quality to them, as if teleported into our dimension from a world in which fear is the only reality. It is really hard to describe on paper, it is a unique sense of paranoia they carry with them the more you immerse yourself in them. The spoken parts are the icing on a cake of subterranean sludge here. Simply perfect in the context of this album's atmosphere. But what drives both styles of vocals to maximum efficiency is the sheer quality of the lyrics. Analysing poetry was never my strongest points, and I advise you to simply read, or much better hear, them for yourself. There's simply such a schizophrenic, otherworldly quality to them that they suck you straight out of our world, our normal world, into a world of absolute fear and paranoia. It's humbling, even terrifying, but also absolutely satisfying for any connoisseur of dark literature.

All in all this is album is magnificent, and absolutely essential for the collection of anyone who appreciates extreme metal - and metal in general - and H. P. Lovecraft and similar authors. It's relentlessly immersive, and suffocatingly dark, while at the same time invigoratingly catchy. One of the most perfect metal albums of all time.


--- Originally written for http://droneriot.blogspot.com

Ambiguous and Frantic - 69%

Roffle_the_Thrashard, January 14th, 2015

H.P. Lovecraft's morbid tales have always held an ambiguous frame of mind and have captivated me in wierd, wonderful, and a bad way. And that is exactly what Revenant's first full length album did for me. Not only are the lyrics solely about Lovecraft's writing but they embody the stories very well with an an ambiguous attitude. However, ambiguity is only good to a point. And I feel that Revenant went over my threshold for oddly dissonant riffs.

Songs like "In The Dark Of The Psychic Unknown" and "Spawn" have the perfect balance of a primitive, destructive sound while still containing a nice amount complexity. But the rest of the songs sound like frantic noodling and solos within the riffs. When I listen to a metal album, I like when the album has a clear, definite message that is trying to be told. For example, on the "Leprosy" album by Death, the message is clear: Diseases are a terrible thing and that death is inevitable. But there is no clear message on "A Prophecy Of A Dying World." Is it: Lovecraft is great? The world is doomed? I'm completely unsure.

With that aside, the musicianship on this record was fantastic. I love the blistering rhythms that drummer Will Corcoran spews out. When I listen to a band I usually prefer a drummer that plays around the band. Corcoran does the opposite in an amazing way. As he plows his way through the bands sound, he pushes them along with him, putting an unstoppable musical locomotive that runs you over and leaves you dying. Guitarists Dave Jengo and Henry Veggian play spastic, brutal riffs that absolutely destroy. They lure you in by playing softly and then plow through you with a barrage of riffs. The bass playing was what bass playing should be: a supportive sound that keeps the band alive but is subtle.

The vocals were a little hard to get used to. I was expecting some typical death metal vocals from a band who plays thrash influenced death metal, but I instead received a weaker, raspy growl. Unlike the lyrics, the vocals were one dimensional and didn't do much for me. I could have done without the poem reading on the title track as well. "Prophecy of A Dying World" has fantastic production, even when I bought it on iTunes. A little more bass clarity would have been nice.

Revenant has massive talent, but I don't think that they applied it correctly on this record. The best tracks are "In The Dark Of The Psychic Unknown", "The Unearthly", and "Spawn." Ambiguity is good to a point.

I spoke to horrors of a dying planet. - 96%

LeMiserable, December 6th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1991, CD, Nuclear Blast

It's sad that the early 90's metal scene left so many great, great albums out of the spotlights, leaving them either forgotten or underrated. Perhaps it's because the bands that did receive attention around the time already had a noteworthy collection of albums preceding a release in this era of time, but what really sets Arise apart from the rest if you look at albums like Prophecies Of A Dying World? This is pretty similar in style to Sepultura's last thrashy offering, though a bit more rooted in death metal than what the Brazilians made around the time. I assume that nobody really knew of Revenant because they didn't really do anything of any value whatsoever before they released this, but I can't imagine there wasn't anyone who even remotely gave a damn about this masterpiece? Anyway, here we have Prophecies Of A Dying World, an early 90's semi-technical death/thrash offering by the New Jersey-based Revenant, and also the only full-length the band ever made. Where initial spins hint towards a fairly unoriginal death/thrash offering, additional hearings will reveal something a lot more advanced than that, because this is pretty complex stuff. This album doesn't resort to flat-out thrashing for 95% of the time nor does it stick to groovy tempos more than you'd like it to. It merely sits somewhere right down the middle. This is both extremely fast and almost doomy in how slow it gets at times. It makes for an interesting experience amongst a high number of bands out to simply play as fast as possible.

This is definitely one of the most consistent albums ever to come out of the 90's (death/)thrash scene. This review covers the CD release by Nuclear Blast which contains 2 additional tracks, resulting in this version of the album taking over 56 minutes. That's perhaps why this album benefits so much from not uniformly resorting to "holy fuck" kinds of pace or the other way around. This takes nearly an hour to complete and songs themselves, with a few exceptions, generally take around 5-7 minutes. That's pretty damn long, yet completely fitting for an album with such a dynamic nature as this. As long as it takes, this never even gets close to the point of boredom. Although you might have that feeling on the first few spins, but when you find out the band almost never thrives on their slow parts too long and usually speeds things up heavily to compensate for their tendency to spend 2-3 minutes a song focusing on being heavy instead of fast. But hey, that varied approach is welcome on a record that takes over 50 minutes to stop emitting sound. It also really, really helps that every song on this album is completely fucking awesome. I definitely have some favorites, but there's not a single song that even hints at dropping below awesome levels of...awesome.

This is unlike anything I have ever heard. Prophecies Of A Dying World is really a masterpiece and a jack-of-all-trades. Even if you're not really a fan of death or thrash metal, there's bound to be something you'll like here. It's not like the slower pseudo-doomy parts resemble Incantation or Funebrarum for whatever reason, but for its time this definitely sounds a lot more serious and darker than what most bands where creating. I mean, would you just look at that cover art? It's not really anything of high artistic value, but it definitely provokes the same gritty feeling the album's material gives you. This isn't a positive album by any stretch of imagination, and I'm pretty sure that's what scared me from this album at first. I mean, what were slower parts doing on my death/thrash songs? I wanted extremely fast stuff in the vein of Solstice, Ripping Corpse or Massacra, but you're not gonna find a whole lot of that here.

Of course, whenever you choose to vary your songs more than usual, you need to make sure you have enough inspiration to prevent sounding repetitive. It surely helps that Revenant here wrote some of the most consistently cool riffs I have ever heard. There's not a single riff on this album I'd deem as redundant or filler, it's not like this album constantly tries to put a shiteload of emphasis on each riff playing, but Revenant simply put out great riff after riff. Whether it's the usual death/thrash stuff you hear during the faster parts, the wacky death metal riffs popping up from time to time, or the slow doomy riffs, not a single note on this album feels short or half-assed. There's genuine effort put into the creation and songwriting of this album, because it's really damn impressive. This album is fairly technical in its approach, it often utilizes complex drum patterns, weird riffs and structures that are definitely tighter than what you'll usually hear from bands from the genre. Speaking of weird, this album is incredibly restrained for something so far rooted in death metal, there's one song on this album that uses blast beats, and it's "Degeneration", a song you won't even hear if you don't have the CD release. I didn't know what to make of them when I heard this song, it honestly almost felt out of place on an album that otherwise sticks to more traditional faster-than-usual thrashy tempos.

It's hard to properly explain the production job of this album because it doesn't really sound like anything else. The whole thing definitely sounds like early 90's stuff albeit somewhat different. For one, the guitar tone is all over the place. It sounds very melodic most of the time, yet during the slower doomy parts, it's pretty sufficiently crushing. It could be that the 2 guitarists on this album are playing on a different tuning, but I don't think this is likely as I've never heard that before, and I can't imagine it would sound great as well. I mean, this guitar tone is definitely heavier than the one from Arise for example, but riffs being played on the higher strings gives an impression it's actually the other way around. The bass guitar is pretty audible most of the time, but when the songs speed up it becomes somewhat buried under the guitars and the very omnipresent sound of the drum kit, but during slower parts you can usually hear it pretty clearly, which is a plus for an album with such an experimental nature as this. The drum kit is really, really loud. For some reason the band decided it was a good idea to make the cymbals extremely front-loaded in the mix. They're not even overly loud, but just very obvious and very easy to hear, almost as if they were recorded separately from the drum kit itself. The vocals on this album are a somewhat grittier type of thrash grunt. They're probably the least exciting aspect of this album though, as they're not so stand-out as the rest of band, but the interesting and somewhat haunting lyrics make sure the vocal performance doesn't pull the album down at all.

It's sad Prophecies Of A Dying World doesn't receive the proper amount of attention for the quality of its material. This is an excellent death/thrash album with a very welcome knack for experimentation. It sets itself apart from other bands in the scene by trying something different and succeeding at doing so. This album definitely serves as one of the all-time peaks of death/thrash, and outshines other great releases such as Dreaming With The Dead and Enjoy The Violence. The only aspect this album loses some of its cool is still rooted in the band's tendency to slow things down perhaps a little too much. Some of these parts don't really provide any highlights, but they definitely didn't keep this from being a masterpiece of the early 90's.

The prophecy of a newly forming scene. - 91%

hells_unicorn, September 19th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1991, CD, Nuclear Blast

At first glance, a band like Revenant might seem a prime candidate for simply being one out of a large number of forgotten bands of the early 90s, playing a style of death metal still heavily entrenched in thrash metal mannerisms. Closer inspection, however, brings a very different picture to light, one that involves the ongoing birth of a force in 90s death metal out of the New York area to rival the one that have been going strong in Florida for a few years by this point. Perhaps the most auspicious part of this band's brief run was the early inclusion of guitarist John McEntee (later one of the prime movers of New York death metal powerhouse Incantation) in the fold, going back about to this band's founding no less and spanning 3 years of demo output that accounts for most of what is heard on this LP that is appropriately titled Prophecies Of A Dying World given the massive death scene that was brewing at roughly the same time courtesy of Immolation and Suffocation.

Though this should be properly recognized as part of New York's early offerings to the genre, the character and sound at work here is definitely a throwback to that of the early Florida scene. The tone is a bit more ferocious and forbidding than what Death was up to circa Spiritual Healing, but there is definitely some noteworthy similarities in the musicality department. By the same token, it doesn't quite crossover into the blasting, almost grindcore character of Morbid Angel and Deicide's first few offerings, though when things pick up tempo it's fairly easy to see some similar influences at work. In many ways, this is actually a bit closer to the middle-of-the-road death/thrash character of Solstice's debut, which coincidentally also came about with the help of a brief contribution by a future bigger name in death metal circles (Rob Barrett of later Cannibal Corpse fame).

This is more of a well-rounded early death metal experience that takes into account the slower doom influences that were imparted by Autopsy and Obituary, though it doesn't dwell upon them nearly as much and treats them in a tasteful manner that is somewhat comparable to middle era Death. This is underscored by the fill-happy, loose character of longer numbers such as "Ancestral Shadows" and 'Asphyxiated Time" that spend a good bit of time shifting around tempo and relying on a wandering, through-composed character that definitely challenges the ears of anyone addicted to standard songwriting formats. Guitar solo breaks are fairly common and definitely point to a strong early 90s Death character more so than anything else, featuring a technical yet extremely methodical and precise assault that runs contrary to the messier, Slayer-inspired approach of the Hoffman brothers and Trey Azagthoth.

While this album manages to largely sound appropriate for 1991, including and not limited to the greater degree of bass and drum activity contra the riff work, hence the looser overall arrangement, there are some occasional deviations that are a bit more indicative of the late 80s era in which most of these songs were originally composed. It becomes most apparent in one of the songs unique to the CD/Cassette release and closer "Degeneration", which all but sounds like it was lifted directly out of the formula Chuck Schuldiner was using on Leprosy, thrashing up and down at full speed with busy riffs flying in a manner that points to the Slayer and Possessed influences upon the style. Likewise, the other bonus song "In The Dark Of A Physic Unknown" really lays on a strong Lovecraft character in the lyrical and aesthetic department after the more occult-like character of the earliest death metal offerings of the mid 80s and their thrash metal cousins, and musically points to a heavy influence courtesy of Slayer's more well-rounded and influential opus South Of Heaven.

It borders on a travesty that this band didn't keep soldiering on throughout the later 1990s given how good this album is, but perhaps a lot of this can be attributed to McEntee's exodus, which is what ended up birthing one of the more consequential members of the New York scene. Still, the aptitude and excellence of the musicians that recorded this could have stood to put out more material, given that death/thrash of this sort became a bit more scarce in the later 90s as things drifted more towards the brutality of Suffocation. Sadder still, this album has become extremely hard to come by and has yet to get a proper reissue in 23 years. If a copy of it happens upon a distributor, anyone with any degree of appreciation for the early 90s death metal era should not pass this up.

A Thrashing Treasure of Death - 90%

Slynt, August 1st, 2014
Written based on this version: 1991, 12" vinyl, Nuclear Blast

I was surprised to see that Prophecies of a Dying World does not have a review yet here at the Metal Archives. I am surprised because I reckon this classic death metal / thrash metal piece has a lot of fans, seeing the prices that are asked for an original CD copy of this work. Prophecies was released in 1991, and flew below the radar in a year that saw Sepultura rise to new heights with Arise, and Morbid Angel release their sophomore album, among many other "big" extreme metal releases. I mention Sepultura and Morbid Angel primarily because those are the two bands I'd compare Revenant's album to, if anyone asked me to describe the music. Two albums that might have had a certain influence on Revenant's compositions are Schizophrenia and Altars of Madness, with other influences worn less visibly on Revenant's sleeves (there are nods to Teutonic thrash metal, especially Kreator, as well as riffage not unlike early Celtic Frost). So what you have here is an album that perhaps wasn't original back in '91, but which over the past decades has gained something of a legendary reputation, and the reason is simply because the nine songs on this album take all these influences and mixes them into a somewhat distinct and progressive journey where you never know what kind of idea will be around the next musical corner.

The musicianship on the album is perfect for the songs; nothing too technical, nothing too simplistic - just the right amount of technique and sloppiness to give the album the raw energy it needs. This rawness is at the same time refined by the unconventional song structures in place, giving the songs added layers that make repeated listens worthwhile. The bass is pretty prominent on this album (listen to "Ancestral Shadows" for an example), often following the riffs but just as likely to branch out here and there. The production is not polished, but neither is it too raw; it matches the music perfectly. The weakest point are the vocals, but misunderstand me correctly: they are great for this album and I enjoy them, it's just that they are sung in the same manner all the way through. A raspy growl that sounds more spoken than sung, perhaps a bit too low in the mix, so after a few songs the vocal parts become a bit predictable and monotonous. At times the vocals are reminiscent of Chuck Schuldiner's vocals on Spiritual Healing, but less powerful.

The songs vary quite a lot, with a lot of tempo changes, breaks, lots of riffs and ideas - none of them amazing, but all of them more than worthy of some serious headbanging. Occasional short bursts of harmonic guitars, fierce and furious guitar solos, and beyond the aforementioned bands you can also hear influences from early Death, Slayer, and a host of other great extreme metal bands from the late eighties/early nineties.

If you like your metal old school and with no excuses, you will probably enjoy Prophecies of a Dying World. The CD and cassette versions of the album have two additional tracks, "In the Dark of the Psychic Unknown" and "Degeneration", which are both just as good and interesting as the other tracks. All songs are fairly long (an average of 6-7 minutes a piece), but they are never dull because the band puts a lot of ideas in each composition. Everything you think belongs to old school death/thrash is present and correct, and in my personal opinion this album is right up there with the best releases of the early nineties and still sounds fresh in July 2014.

There are no stand-out tracks as they are all good and, admittedly, somewhat similar to each other, but if I had to pick one track to represent Revenant's only full-length album, I'd go with "Distant Eyes" because it showcases everything the album is about: Fast parts, heavy slow parts, some melody, unusual song structure, lots of breaks and build-ups, groovy parts, some dissonance, and both old school and progressive at the same time (I guess it makes sense when you hear it).