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Intriguing early death metal (or is it thrash?) - 83%

robotiq, November 8th, 2019

The Chicago scene should get more credit for the development of early death metal. Back in 1985/86 there might have been more proto-death metal bands in Chicago than anywhere else in the world. Death Strike, Master, Terminal Death and Devastation could all be seen as death metal to some extent (albeit with lots of hardcore punk influences). For some reason, people seem to have forgotten about most of these bands. Master are well known, but mainly through their official albums which were released several years later. The other names languish in obscurity.

It hasn't always been like this. Sindrome was an all-star team of the Chicago scene. Three of the four musicians on this demo had previously played in the aforementioned bands. Chris Mittelburn played on the unreleased Master album from 1985 (easily Master's best stuff), Shaun Glass played on Terminal Death's “Faces of Death” demo (1985), Troy Dixler sang on Devastation's “A Creation of Ripping Death” demo (1986). This Sindrome demo, “Into the Halls of Extermination” is the culmination of all this, and should have been the beginning of a glorious future. The tape itself was traded around the globe and influenced many other bands.

For listeners in 2019, this represents an interesting mix of thrash and embryonic death metal. The predominant influence is early Slayer. From a musical perspective the whole demo sounds like an extended suite of "Chemical Warfare". Sindrome, like Slayer, do not conform to the typical triplet/chug/triplet thrash guitar patterns. The riffs are loose, complex and ugly. There are passages of steamroller momentum, which would later be used by bands like Deicide and Vader (see 0:16 of "Cathedrals of Ice”, or 2:30 of "Precognition"). The production is dense, more similar to a contemporary death metal album (“Scream Bloody Gore”) than an extreme thrash one (say, “Darkness Descends”). All five songs are great, the lyrics are memorable and engaging (particularly the title track in its depiction of World War II extermination camps).

Troy Dixler's vocal approach is unique. His style differs to the death growl he used on the first Devastation demo. Instead, he opts for cleaner singing and a well enunciated delivery. I like this choice from an artistic perspective. The vocals suit the narrative lyrics and Dixler has a powerful voice. However, these are thrash metal vocals, a genre which had already reached its creative peak. Looking back, these vocals seem to root this demo in the past, the anthemic thrash chorus of "Rapture in Blood" is the only section on the entire demo that sounds dated.

Sindrome never capitalised on this excellent release. Perhaps Dixler's vocal choice cost them extreme metal immortality, perhaps not. I certainly wonder what these songs would sound like if he had used his death metal growl. A second demo emerged five years later, but by then Sindrome had developed into a technical thrash band (and the world had moved on). "Into the Halls of Extermination" stands up well today though, and anyone interested in the boundaries between thrash and death metal should check it out.