Saturday, April 12, 2014

Inside the Electric Circus: Exhumed's life on the Intoxicated Holocaust US tour, Part I

Exhumed Intoxicated Holocaust tour diary part the first: the US leg part I

When we were approached about this tour, as soon as we heard the line-up we were on board. ToxicHolocaust, Ramming Speed and MammothGrinder are bands that I actually listen to, which is pretty rare for bands formed after 1985. I liked that all the bands were different, Toxic doing their crust-thrash thing, Ramming Speed doing their NWOBHM-infused crossover, and Mammoth Grinder with their down and dirty caveman-level death metal. Where we fit in didn't really matter. After all the touring we've done, it's pretty obvious that we need to have a good package to get people in the door – we'd already played all these markets with Dying Fetus in October and then played half of them again with Iron Reagan in December. We had our customary weekend of rehearsals before embarking on the road – this time we added “Your Funeral, My Feast” to the set – it was the last song on All Guts... we had yet to play live so it was time. We also worked out “Carrion Call” from Necrocracy for this tour but it wasn't coming across live the way we wanted it to, so we dropped it after a few shows. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
"Your Funeral, My Feast" and "Limb From Limb" live in Santa Ana January 2014

Mike, freshly relocated to Tampa, Florida, flew into San Francisco, as did Bud, albeit from North Carolina. Rob took a train from Santa Ana to Grover Beach and hung out with my visiting girlfriend and I (speaking of commuting, she's from the UK) for a night before the inimitable Dr. Philthy came and picked us up in our battered van. Starting the tour, our van's sliding side door didn't open and neither did one of the back doors, and it quickly developed an oil leak which you'll hear more about later. So it was a bit of a rolling death-trap.

We drove north to San Jose to rehearse in the Cretin (featuring Exhumed alumnus Col Jones and Matt Widener) jam space since they were recording their new album “Stranger.” Bud's parents still live in San Jose, in the same neighborhood I and all the original Exhumed guys grew up in, so we would crash there. After scraping the rust off on the first day's rehearsal and raiding Bud's parents' liquor cabinet, we dropped my girl off at the airport and went back in early for the second (and final) rehearsal so we would be done in time to catch the '9ers / Seahawks NFC championship game. The rehearsal was a success, the game not so much, but the pizza and beer more than made up for it. After plundering Bud's folks' liquor again I decided to call it a night when Rob and Bud's wrestling resulted in cracking one of the walls. The next morning I was considerably the worse for wear as we headed north to Chico for the pre-tour warm up gig we had scheduled for Monday night.

The Monday night small-town gig turned out far better than we had expected, with a hundred people coming out and making us feel very welcome in their college town. We headed to the promoter's pad to crash where we enjoyed his very large dogs and semi-functioning hot tub. We had the following day off to drive up to Seattle to start the tour proper, which we spent touring the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, which is free, informative and they give you tastes of different beers. All you have to do is book a tour in advance, we booked it the day before. What more do you want? One caveat, make sure your ID is valid, because mine is expired and I didn't bring my passport, I wasn't able to taste any of the beers. Whoops. We grabbed In-and-Out Burger and spent the rest of the day and night in the van.

The badge of shame I had to wear since I didn't have a valid ID with me.

L to R, Bud, Dylan, and Rob testing hops at Sierra Nevada.

Mike with the Sierra Nevada vats as beer gets heated (if I remember correctly) along the way to deliciousness.

Yes, that big copper thing behind Mike is full of beer.

The Sierra Nevada brewing facility is disturbingly clean and sterile.

Entrance to the shwag store.

The view from the taproom where I enjoyed some really delicious... lemonade.

We arrived in Seattle with plenty of time to spare and were soon met by the Ramming Speed guys in their patented rusted short-bus. We had met them at the end of the Dying Fetus tour when we did a one-off show with them in Raleigh and had got along with them swimmingly, by that I mean we drank until about 4:00 am with them, shouting Iron Maiden melodies. We were very familiar with the venue, Studio Seven, which has become our go-to venue in Seattle, so as soon as doors opened we loaded in, grabbed showers, and made ourselves at home. We play there so much we've become friends with the owners and always have a great time there. The Mammoth Grinder dudes rolled up in Toyota, which was a bit unusual, but we quickly learned that everyone was primarily using Ramming Speed's backline – and we were carrying about four times the gear of all the other bands combined. But that's not unusual, it was the same case when we toured with Fetus. The show was predictably killer and we ended up falling into old habits and partying at the venue until about 5:00am. While the other bands headed to Canada for the Vancouver gig, we opted to play it safe, even though we were admitted into the country with Fetus, we felt it was too dicey to risk for one show – especially when we could potentially be charged $800 just to enter the country (Mike, Bud, the good Doctor and myself all have drunk driving convictions – leading the Canadian government to require us to each to purchase “Temporary Residence Permits” each time we enter the country for $200/person, or potentially not let us in at all as happened on our tour with Municipal Waste and Napalm Death). Instead we headed to Spokane, Washington to do our own show.

My favorite thing about playing the Hop in Spokane is the shop Time Bomb across the street, where I had previously spent $60 on Marvel Super Heroes Slurpee cups from the 1970s when we played Spokane with Suffocation in April. This time, Time Bomb was closed, but a sister store, GiantNerd Books, had opened next door and I was able to pick up a couple of very rare Jack Kirby comic mags from the 70s – SpiritWorld and Days of the Mob. To say my day was made would be a dramatic understatement. The show was pretty decent, our friends in Xingaia supported (and Christine, one of their girlfriends, their pr person and all around fun gal brought us insanely delicious baked goods to munch on again, which ruled), playing their thrash-infused hyper Death Metal with a sneer and some often hilarious samples spliced in. We went to one of their houses for a party afterward, but I bowed out relatively early after a rapid succession of vodka-and-something shots. The next day I was still in pretty rough shape.

Our van was also in pretty rough shape. The oil leak we'd spotted hadn't improved, in fact it had gotten worse. We went to a mechanic who fixed the leak, and then informed us that our transmssion was in terrible shape – which we kind of knew already, but they were shocked we intended to drive from Portland to Oakland the following day and predicted that we'd be far more likely to be broken down on the side of the road than to be enjoying a juicy Nations hamburger in the home of our favorite football team. Sufficiently spooked, we seriously considered that our semi-faithful van (we had already put a new engine in it) might not pull through. We scrambled for options, and ended up finding a rental van in Portland through bandago – who specialize in renting vans to touring bands. Their services aren't cheap, but inlcude a decent amount of mileage, roadside assitance and brand new, perfectly maintained vehicles. We decided to bite the bullet and spend the cash on the rental van, which meant that we'd all be going home with a significantly smaller amount of money than expected at the end of this tour, especially since we were planning on buying our plane tickets for our already-scheduled European tour with Toxic Holocaust out of the profits from this tour. But we simply couldn't afford to drop a new transmission in the van right at that moment (we didn't have time to anyway) and we couldn't risk not being able to finish the tour in our old van. We hitched the trailer to the rental van, and decided to drop off our van in San Jose at Bud's parents (who are total lifesavers). The Portland show was fun, but because my ID was expired, I wasn't able to drink any beer at all again (I think between that night and the brewery tour, I've learned my lesson) and we ended up at Sizzle Pie, the pizza joint owned by Matt Jacobson (who also owns Relapse Records) for some complimentary slices. We finally left town about 3:00am with both vans, and headed to the Bay Area.
The Oakland Metro Opera House before the show

Mike Hamilton, booze advisor

Turning garbage into gold: Mike's old drum head with some of my scribbles, an old set list (that was there already) and our signatures. This netted us dozens of... cents at the merch table.

I love the Oakland Metro, love the city, love seeing old friends, hanging with Mike's brothers and assorted family members and even just driving by the Oakland Coliseum makes me a little misty-eyed, even if it's been 12 years since I've had reason to be optimistic about a Raiders season (yes, I know I'm from the suburbs!). We did end up enjoying that delicious Nations cheeseburger after all (salmon burger in my case, if you wanna get technical about it) before the show, enjoying an East Bay tradition. We had played the Metro with Iron Reagan and local support from the awesome Necrot on a Monday night in December and it had been a solid show, even after having been in San Francisco five weeks eariler with Fetus, so we were anxious to see how it would go on a Saturday night with a fully stacked tour package. Suffice it to say, the night did not disappoint.

We had to split fairly soon afterwards, to drop our ailing van off at Bud's folks in San Jose and then stop by my place in Arroyo Grande to drop off some gear and pick up some other gear before the following day's in-store at Grill 'Em All in Alahambra and show at the Joint in Los Angeles. We had a great time and a great meal at Grill 'Em All, who added their first vegan item to the menu for Toxic Holocaust (Joel's been a vegan for four years or so), some vegan fries. I went for the spicy Napalm Death-themed burger and did not regret it at all (as much as my stomach might disagree). The staff were awesome, welcoming and generously pulling pints of beer, so it was a great warm-up. The show at the Joint (where we had hosted our Necrocracy listening party night) was destined to be packed – the venue was woefully undersized, really more of a bar than anything and it was quickly sold out. While we played, I could see kids looking in through the windows, watching the show from outside. It was a trip. We partied with tons of friends and familiar faces and after the show we headed further south to Santa Ana to crash at Rob's.
The line at Grill 'em All.

Exhumed, immediately after gaining 8 pounds at Grill 'em All in Alhambra. 8 delicious pounds.

Mike was up early the next day to pick up our sound-guy for this tour, Cephalic Carnage guitarist Brian Hopp who was in town for the NAMM convention, and I dragged my carcass down the street to Charlie's Best, the local taqueria / burger joint for some much-needed greasy fare. Soon we were back at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana, where we had just played a sold-out show with Dying Fetus in October, and even after that, we had played locally with Iron Reagan in Anaheim in December which was a killer show in its own right, so we figured that the show would be a corker. Before the gig we shared a dressing room with the Toxic guys and got a taste of just how much they loved awful music (maybe even more than us??). After being treated to some obscure christian metal jams from the '80s courtesy of Joel and Phil (Nick just sort of hung his head dejctedly and said “welcome to the last four years of my life” while this was going on) we had a killer set, feeling much more at ease with a guy behind the board.
"Sickened," "Gravewalker" and "The Matter of Splatter" in Santa Ana

After the gig, we piled in the much more comfortable rental van and headed for Phoenix, where we predictably showed up at Ryan Butler's doorstep at 9 in the morning or so. Ryan is a saint, aside from engineering our last two records, playing guitar in the awesome LandmineMarathon, he lets us hang out at his place every time we roll through on tour (which is about five or six times a year), watch tv, shower, do laundry and hang out with his dog Leia (who makes an appearance on our split EP with Iron Reagan). Again, we had played in the area just five weeks earlier with Iron Reagan and had a good show, even after playing their in October with Fetus, so we were pretty much a local band at that point, but had been having consistently good shows in Phoenix so we weren't too worried. Tonight was no exception, and the energy was killer. We always swing next door to Asylum Records to hang out and check out the stock, and I somehow resisted the temptation to buy the Japanese pressing of Spellbound by Tygers of Pan Tang that they had there, remembering how much extra we were spending on the rental van. At any rate, we made our traditional stop for late night Mexican at Filberto's with Buter and a few friends before packing back into the van to drive to Albuquerque for the following day's show. But that, as they say, is a tale for another blog.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tabs from the slab continued...

Here's more guitar tablature for you guys to chew on. This time, I've tabbed out the first track from All Guts, No Glory, "As Hammer to Anvil" for you.  It's a pretty straightforward tune construction-wise. The verse, chorus and beginning of the bridge is all built around deconstructing the intro riff, which features a bit of string-skipping alternate picking that's pretty easy to master once you get the hang of it. I got the idea years ago after reading something by Erik Rutan talking about string-skipping exercises he did. The transitions are simple hammer-on ascensions that are our takes on the opening licks in "Back in the Village" by Maiden - or as we referred to it - the "...And Justice for All" lick backwards. Playing it much faster and against F# key of the song (technically C# in our tuning) gives it a different feel than either the Maiden or Metallica takes on the lick (that are in Am and Em respectively). The timing of the chorus riff is loosely based off the chorus riff in "Hypertension" by Razor and the bridge features pretty obvious nods first to Slayer (a bit similar to "Captor of Sin") and then to Carcass (riffing off the chorus in "Swarming Vulgar Mass of Infected Virulency").

I've included the transcription for my solo (or a very close facsimile thereof) here. In doing this, as often happens, I've realized how far what I've been playing live every night has wandered from the initial recording. The first half has some typical stuff that I do a lot, interspersing Adrian Smith-worship minor stuff with occasional spurts of bluesy bits with lots of hammer-ons, pull-offs and triplet timing, and then it goes into a total "Creeping Death" type descent that was just too easy and fun to do, before rounding it out with a quarter-note triplet melody stuff that I so often fall back on for feel and vibe. I'm not sure what Wes played here, but his solo is a killer. If you run into him, ask him for me.

The file I posted here is a Guitar Pro 6 file, which is what we use to send transcriptions back and forth internally. I'm not sure if there's a free way to open the (.gpx) files as I'm not the most internet-savvy guy out there, but the program itself is pretty reasonable - something like $45. I highly recommend it for any guitarists, I use it to write midi drum patterns and all kinds of shit. I tried exporting the file as a .pdf, but it turns into a ridiculously long thing that is of no use to anyone, so... Hopefully you have the program if you're interested.

And for those of you who aren't guitar players out there that are still reading (anyone?  hello?), I wrote an alternate draft of liner notes for All Guts, No Glory that featured a track-by-track breakdown. Here's what I had for "As Hammer..." circa 2011:

I wrote five or six songs for a new album back in 2005, and this is one of the two that we actually recorded for “All Guts, No Glory” (the other being “Cold Caress”). Even at the time, the consensus was that this was the strongest track I had come up with, and it's held up well. Getting it ready for this record, I did tighten up the arrangement (originally there was a weird tempo shift where things slowed to a crawl and there was some atmospheric whammy bar stuff that didn't work that well even then, and definitely didn't jive with the zeitgeist of things in 2011) and shorten the song a little bit to keep it taut and aggressive. One part I kept was one of Mike Beams' old riffs as the tail to the bridge part. I originally wrote this song right before he left the band, and this particular bit was something from his early 90's death metal band Burial. They were a great band, chock full of Mike's amazing riffs, and really good friends of ours in the early days. Their singer, Mark Smith recorded the “Cadaveric Splatter Platter” demo with us back in 1993. Mike was a true gentleman about the riff and was stoked that we used it on the record. Leon actually inspired the title years ago. When Satyricon's “Nemesis Divina” album came out, Leon would always quote the line “I am the hammer, you are the (you have to say this with an exaggerated Scandinavian accent) anwil” which would crack me up. So I had some kind of Hammer / Anvil thing in mind – plus we had already spoofed the band Anvil with “Forged In Fire” back on “Slaughtercult”, so it kind of fit an ongoing motif. I had written lyrics back in '05, but lost them somewhere in the many moves I've undertaken since then, so I just kept the title and vocal patterns (as best I could remember them) and wrote new ones that are probably pretty similar, in all honesty. The bridge part is a little homage to a Tolkein poem about dwarves and their “hammer fells like ringing bells” or something like that, haha!

All right guys, enjoy. Tour updates and photos are coming here soon - here's the link to get the tab.

"As Hammer To Anvil" Live at the Roxy at the Scion / Relapse showcase in early 2012

Friday, March 28, 2014

March 2014 - Under the Influence

Hey there, meant to update this while we were on the road, but... you know how things go on the road - Hangovers, layovers, fatigue, lack of internet... Anyway, we finally finished two back-to-back tours with the truly indulgent and most excellent dudes in Toxic Holocaust across the western half of the USA and the vast majority of the  European continent. We're going to be do something really weird next - take six months off of playing shows (with the exception of the Scion Rock Fest in Pomona, California this May) so we'll actually get a bit of time to relax. Weird, right? Anyway, in between catching up on all the TV I've missed while on tour, I've been going through my computer and tidying up files and such (oh yeah, I know how to have a good time) and I came across something I wrote for a Finnish webzine called Imperiumi. They have a feature called "Pirun Tusina" (which translates to "the Devil's Dozen") where different musicians talk about the thirteen records that have had the biggest impact on them and their musical development.
I love this kind of thing and had a blast writing this up, and it turned out to be pretty long-winded. Anyway, I'm not sure if they ever did translate / post it, but I came across the document and thought I'd share it here. I doubt anyone who knows much about me or the band will be surprised at all, but, if you dig this kind of stuff, hopefully you'll find it a decent read. I'll be back with more new content, tablature and - yes, I have heard your numerous requests - I will resume the tour diaries. Anyway, enjoy this for now.

#1. Metallica Master of Puppets

I first heard this around Christmas of 1987. I had turned 12 a couple of months earlier and was gettting into Dio, Maiden, Ozzy, W.A.S.P., and all the requisite 80s mainstream / hair metal stuff. I tried one of those record club 12 cassettes for a penny deals (remember when that was a thing?) and Metallica was a name I had vaguely heard of somewhere, so I took a stab in the dark and ordered it (Peace Sells... But Who's Buying was also in there, which I added on the list because it had cool cover art). After I had sifted through all the stuff I got (Ozzy “Tribute,” Quiet Riot “Metal Health,” W.A.S.P.'s first album, Dio “Sacred Heart,” and a bunch of other stuff I've forgotten) I came to the Metallica and Megadeth tapes I had saved for last, since they looked the most frightening and were unknown commodities. I was at my grandparents' for the holidays and was the last person awake, sitting in the empty living room with the tree and all the presents and listening to music in the dark on my Walkman - that's where I first heard Metallica.

At first I thought, “This isn't a heavy metal tape, this like... Spanish music or something,” until that angular, aggressive verse riff emerged from one of the greatest build-ups in Metal history. When the drums kicked in, I was literally shocked. I listened to the album alone in the dark, eyes closed, and I literally felt like I was on the most intense roller-coaster ride of my life. When “Battery” ended, I had to stop the tape to catch my breath. I remember looking around the room in disbelief – something fucking amazing had just happened to me, something inside me had woken up – and I was a little surprised that the living room still looked the same, because I felt that things had become, well... fundamentally different than they had been before I heard that song. I took a moment to collect my thoughts, and then proceeded to get into the second track. I wasn't sure exactly what the lyrics were about, and I worried that they were about Satan (the pitch-shifted laughter in the bridge actually frightened me at the time) and I would get grounded or something for listening to the record if my parents found out about it. The title track ended and again, I stopped the tape to try to take in and make some sense of what I'd heard. I decided that this record was completely worth the risk of getting grounded and that I would press on through the rest of the album. Even listening to the record felt like an act of defiance. And it felt damn good.

A couple of weeks later I saw an issue of Hit Parader or whatever rock mag it was, and there were all these guys with huge hair and sparkly pants, and then there was Metallica... There were just... these four guys. They weren't puckering their lips for the camera – they were scowling, or laughing, or skateboarding. They didn't look like “rock stars,” they just looked like dudes from the nearby high school: ratty jeans; band t-shirts; leathers; puffy white hi-tops. When I saw that, I thought – “Maybe I could do that.” I had been thinking about picking up an instrument, but I never quite made the leap of trying it until I saw Metallica. They made me think, “they're just regular guys, and they're blowing everybody else out of the water – no robot dragons, no hairspray, no music video, and they're the most interesting band on the scene. Fuck, if they can do it, why not me?” And so I did. And I'm still playing white guitars, wearing tight black jeans, sleeveless shirts, wristbands and high-tops 26 years later, so I'd say the influence can't really be overstated. So much of everything I've done musically stems directly from that night in December 1987.

Even as an adult, I never, ever, ever get tired of listening to this album. Each song is great in its own right, and it has just the right mix of... well, everything. There's youthful aggression, thoughtful passages, touches of Cliff's emotive psychedelic influence, lyrics that are just deep / juvenile enough to stimulate a kid in school but not embarrass an adult, and of course, an endless array of the best riffs in the fucking universe. To me, this album (and to a lesser extent Ride The Lightning) epitomizes how great Heavy Metal can be. For every defiantly triumphal melody, there's a lumbering colossus of a riff or a straightahead face-ripping Thrash section. These guys make using these seemingly disparate elements look easy. I could probably write 800 words on each song, but I'll leave it at this for now.

#2 Slayer Hell Awaits

After discovering Metallica and Megadeth, (who seemed to my young ears to be an inferior albeit enjoyable band to listen to when you were tired of Metallica) anything seemed possible in the realm of heavy music to my young ears. And then... Enter Slayer. I got Reign In Blood first, and was of course overwhelmed by the speed and aggression (I even ruined the “listening to students' music one day a week in class” in Seventh grade by playing “Altar of Sacrifice” and shocking the “cool teacher” at school who was very nonplussed) but I ended up spending more time with Hell Awaits. Sure Reign went for the throat, but Hell Awaits was fucking scary.

I distinctly remember buying that cassette (I religiously bought everything on cassette back then, which I profoundly regret in hindsight) distinctly. I was having a sleepover sometime during early 1988 at a buddy's house, and we went to the record store together where He bought Appetite For Destruction, and I bought Hell Awaits. Back to his house, we compared purchases. As I listened to the Gn'R album (which I now completely love) I was cringing with disgust - all I heard was another generic MTV-ready glam band (again, that's a 12 year-old's opinion), but my buddy was totally into it. Then I popped in Hell Awaits and it was clear he just as bummed out with what he was hearing as I had been with Appetite. The next morning when I left his house, I knew that we would never hang out again. And we didn't. I got the feeling that I was on a different path- keep in mind I was twelve years old here, the world was just opening up and everything seemed new and laden with significance – leading to someplace darker, faster and heavier than ever before. Hell Awaits was pointing the way.

This album is verging on pure Death Metal – especially for the time, the dark tremelo picked riffs, songs about hell, necrophilia, serial killers, vampires, and uh... well, amphetamines. It had everything. Even the bass was audible in the mix! As much as I love Show No Mercy (I used to have it in my auto-reverse tape deck to play all night long while I slept), I feel like this is the album where Slayer became Slayer. This is the sound that defined their greatest moments, the sound of two guitars slashing and hacking instead of soloing, weaving minor riffs fraught with sinister atonality and quirky harmonies around Dave's breakneck drumming. They streamlined and perfected the formula on Reign In Blood, but give me the experimentation and the sinister feel of Hell Awaits any day. The rough-hewn production and not-quite-professional-yet vibe of the songwriting and instrumentation is something unique and very close to my heart.

#3 Exodus Bonded By Blood

I got Exodus' sophomore album, Pleasures of the Flesh sometime in early 1988. I liked it, but didn't fall in love with it. I think I had a lot of company in that analysis. The atrocious drum sound and hollow production didn't do the excellent songs any favors. That said, I liked it enough to get Bonded By Blood, which completely blew me away. It was the missing link between Kill 'Em All and Show No Mercy, but I think it's quite a bit better than either of those albums. When I hear that intro – I feel my blood pressure rise and the desire to just find someone to beat the shit out of. And it feels fucking good. By the time I heard this record I had a few thrash cassettes, and was getting a feel for what the genre was about, and this record encapsulates that perfectly. The album retains the classiness of pure British metal with Holt and Hunolt's articulate, melodc solos, but pairs it with the nastiness of those... fucking... riffs... Riff after riff just completely rules. Baloff's almost tuneless vocals sound like the roar of a guy you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. There's a palpable sense of danger and menace bristling through every aspect of the record, propelled  by the pummeling drum work of Tom Hunting, one of the most criminally underrated drummers in metal. His fills and fluid bass drumming animate riffs that would sound stale with the Lombardo Polka beat.

I love the lyrics to this album more than I can express. There's an arrogant cruelty and complete lack of taste throughout. It isn't about fighting glorious battles or killing your enemies, it's about stabbing people in the back and raping people's wives. There are absolutely no fucks given and no holds barred on this lyric sheet. The lack of refinement and sentiment is refreshing – there's no pretension there. Slayer used big words like “abascinate,” Exodus were okay with just saying “Bloody corpse, makes me feel great.” Because really, what else do you need to say?

I was talking to a friend from the crossover band What Happens Next? about Exodus years later, and before becoming a straightedge punk, he was a thrash kid and attended the infamous “dead poseur” show at Ruthie's Inn in Berkeley - The show where “Slay Team” (Exodus' entourage) dragged some random guy in a Ratt or Motley Crue shirt or whatever on stage and kicked his ass pretty badly. The show fell apart and the band left the stage, but the crowd remained behind, chanting “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!” for several minutes. As he related that story, he ended with “...and that's why I got out of metal.” I simply responded, “That's why I got into metal.”

#4 Celtic Frost Morbid Tales

When I saw this tape in the record store, I had seen the band's name on a couple of compilations, but their name didn't seem that cool to me. It still sounds like the name of a shampoo or a deodorant to me if I think about it objectively. But between the heptagram cover art and the cool song titles, I bought it anyway (I found a ton of great records that way, like The Force by Onslaught). As soon as “Into Crypts of Rays” kicked in... all thoughts of shampoo were banished. Now the words celtic frost could only mean Celtic Frost. The dark, dingy sound of the record was totally different from anything I'd heard before. The riffs remain the heaviest of all time, and this was done without down-tuning and in 1984. That blows my mind.

What made the album even more personal to me was that it was one of the few tapes I had at the time that I could actually play along with on guitar from start to finish. Sure, I knew all the riffs on Kill 'Em All, but it didn't sound like Kill 'Em All when I played it (crappily). But when I played “Nocturnal Fear,” it sounded like “Nocturnal Fear.” I spent so much time playing to this album, its style became engrained in my guitar-playing. By the time I heard Terrorizer and learned their power-chord sliding riffs, my first thought was - “Oh, it's like Celtic Frost, but 4 times as fast, I get it.”

Another thing I really liked about this record was that the cassette I bought had no information on it whatsoever beyond the cover art and song titles. I knew absolutely nothing about the band, the image, the lyrics, anything. That, coupled with the relentless heaviness of the music, the grimy recording, and those ubiquitous “unghs!” created a kind of personal mystique for me (that was promptly shattered when Cold Lake was released later that year). Despite Fischer's attempts to re-shatter it years later with his probably-too-candid autobiography, I can still recapture it when I hear those thunderous, graveyard shaking riffs and every previously “heavy” riff instantly sounds wimpy compared to Morbid Tales all over again.

#5 Venom Black Metal

In October of 1988, my best friend (then and now) and original Exhumed drummer, Col Jones handed me the Black Metal cassette and said “Happy Birthday.” We sat down and listened to “the band that Metallica started out opening for” as we knew them at that time and were blown away by what we heard. What drew me in was the hell-for-leather abandon of it all. Behind the inverted crosses, piles of amps, racks of endless toms, bombastic monikers, and excessive dry ice was something rare and beautiful – a great sense of humor. Any band that could write a song like “Teacher's Pet” and also help inspire teenagers in Norway to burn down churches over a decade later is clearly covering all bases.

The sloppiness of the proceedings were extremely appealing to a na├»ve young guitarist struggling to master the main riff in “Pleasures of the Flesh.” It's a lot easier and more fun to just play “To Hell And Back,” where the verse riff is essentially two chords. I think by this time we felt comfortable listening to heavy music, because I remember grinning ear to ear when I heard this record. I felt like I was in on a brilliant, tongue-in-cheek farce. Slayer had already cured me of any religious beliefs, so the Satanic stuff had become pure theater for me at this point, titillating but no longer frightening; fear has been replaced by something purer – stimulation. Not sexual, but visceral. Once I saw The Ultimate Revenge, Venom fascinated me even more, and for a good number of years they were be my favorite band, part of a love affair started on my 13th birthday that continues to this day.

#6 Kreator Pleasure To Kill

Maybe Black Metal was more fun then scary, but there was no laughter in the room when I heard Pleasure To Kill the first time. I remember listening to this record in early '89 (still thirteen at the time) while eating cereal before leaving to catch the school bus and thinking “holy shit – this is faster than Slayer!” After randomly catching the “Toxic Trace” video on MTV's Headbanger's Ball, I had to get a Kreator album. Endless Pain was the one that was in stock at the record store around the corner from my house, but I hadn't quite found what I was looking for until I picked this one up.

All of a sudden I felt like there was a new level of speed available to bands, and I wondered why they weren't all playing this fast? Why wouldn't everyone want to scream on the verge of comprehensibility like Mille and Ventnor do on this album? Why stop at Reign in Blood?!?!? The solos here make Slayer look like Eddie Van Halen, the drumming is off-time and sloppy, the toms sound ridiculous, and some of the riffs are so chromatic they almost accidentally wander into major keys. But who really gives a fuck when it sounds this powerful. This album sounds like it's about to explode out of your speakers and destroy everything in it's path. You feel like you almost have to get out of the way of this album, it's so aggressive. If I could sum this album up in one word, I'd say it's fucking mean. Even the sort of nice parts (the bridge in “Riot of Violence”) seem like a monster giving a girl flowers and accidentally crushing them in his hand and terrifying the girl anyway. There's an energy to this record that is uniquely powerful, and although I love all their early records, this one really pushed me to want to play faster, along with bands like S.O.D., D.R.I., and Cryptic Slaughter.

#7 Voivod Dimension Hatross

It wasn't all about speed and brutality, though (although it mostly was). There was room for something a bit more... dare I say cerebral? Voivod were always the most unique thrash band, and Hatross was THE ONE. The record was completely different from the ground up in every respect: fueled by science-fiction concepts, broken English, and dissonant, off-kilter guitar-riffs, the instrumentalists of the band had three uniquely bizarre styles that interlocked in a way that sounded unlike anything else. Maybe if I was jamming Killing Joke, Die Kreuzen, and King Crimson in 1988, I would have had some frame of reference for what I was hearing, but I had never heard of any of those bands yet. I was still popping zits listening to Slayer.

The record brought something really appealing to me personally, a long-time comic book and science-fiction reader, a heady and interesting concept that had nothing to with Satan or any of the metal cliches. There was no treading of the same old ground here – the paradigm wasn't shifted, but shattered. Still retaining the heaviness and aggression of their early years and just beginning to tap into the progressive futurism of the Nothingface era, the band was (and still is) light years ahead of their time. I think this album sounds as innovative and unique in 2013 as it did in 1988. I loved the fact that everything was centered around this weird concept that they could take it in these strange new directions. Best of all, there's an unassuming aspect about this album, in that it's technical and skronky without being showy about it. The music sounds how it's supposed to sound: expressive and personal, whereas most “progressive” or “technical” music sounds stale, contrived and overthought. This is Voivod sounding like themselves: unique and untouchable.

#8 Sodom Persecution Mania

Growing up in the Bay Area, even a thirteen year-old could figure out that Metallica, Exodus, Testament, et al were pretty fucking popular in 1989. As much as I loved (and still love) the Bay Area Thrash movement, I wanted something faster and more brutal. I wanted that same adrenaline rush that I got the first time I heard “Battery.” Like any addict, I just needed more. Sodom seemed like Kreator's crueler little brother. When this cassette landed amongst my circle of friends it exploded like the nuclear bomb sound effect in “Nuclear Winter.”

There's not really anything innovative or ground-breaking going on this album, it just kicks fucking ass. Witchhunter's endless tom fills rain down like a hail of bombs (a “Bombenhagel” - see what I did there?), Angelripper's sneering growl spits out tales of Armageddon with a movie-villain German accent, and Blackfire's guitar work borders on tasteful (especially in comparison with Kreator's solos) adding a sheen of “musicality” to the proceedings. The cover art alone is worth buying the album for. We spent lots of time in our parents' living rooms plodding through cover versions of “Persecution Mania” and “Bombenhagel” (as well as “Riot of Violence”) in 1989.

#9 Death Scream Bloody Gore

With Kreator and Sodom releasing brilliant but comparatively safe sounding records in 1989 (Extreme Aggression and Agent Orange respectively) it was time to look elsewhere for brutality: Florida. The first time I heard SBG I was actually a little confused by the extremity and the basement-level production. But repeated listens painted a deranged, bloody picture that was the audio equivalent of the B- horror films I loved. Chuck's voice sounded like someone was literally torturing him while he played, and the riffs were a less developed version of what Slayer had done, but still unique. I quickly set to work learning every single fucking riff on the album and we added “Sacrificial,” “Mutilation,” and “Infernal Death” to our semi-competent repertoire of cover songs. I remember xeroxing the lyric sheet in the CD (I only had the tape) so that I could pour over couplets like “Vomit for a mind, maggots for a cock.”

Once again, there was an element of cruelty to the music. Completely un-PC (and probably regrettable in hindsight) lyrics like “I celebrate, a faggot's death, human disgrace” were actually shocking. I thought after Slayer and Venom there was no shocking me. Wrong. Another friend of ours had “Leprosy” which is obviously the better album in all respects, but I loved SBG more then and now, not just because I could play all the riffs at thirteen, because even after honing my playing and getting down the Leprosy stuff, the more straightforward arrrangements and willfully atrocious lyrics somehow had wormed their way into my heart and have stayed there ever since.

#10 Napalm Death The Peel Sessions

The first time I heard Napalm Death was towards the end of 1989 and I hated them. It was a bunch of racket. It was garbage. Questions arose like: “Is this even music? What the fuck was wrong with them? Why would anyone want to make that sound?” And then, inevitably came the next sentence: “But, play it again.” I wanted the fastest, the most brutal band in the world, and I had finally found them. Within a few months, they went from being “the dumbest band ever” to being my favorite band. More than any other extreme band, they represented a paradigm shift in my musical tastes and identity. Just as Metallica and Slayer made listening to Cinderella un-fucking-thinkable, Napalm Death ended up doing the same thing to Metallica and Slayer.

As much as I love the band's proper records, this recording just shocked me and made a massive impression. The drumming literally just sounds like an explosion, the riffs benefit from that distinctive late 80s Bill Steer guitar tone and his great Reek Of Putrefaction-era whammy bar antics make a few appearances too. At the time I heard this record, my friends and I had already been talking about forming a proper band, but before long our original drummer Col and I were holding our own practices where we were free to pursue our love of blast beats. The other guys were still listening to stuff like Coroner, and we were ready to embrace the bash-and-crash style popularized by Mick Harris and the lads.

#11 Carcass Symphonies of Sickness

By summer of 1990, my pimply faced friends and I were knee deep in Death, Obituary, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower and Entombed. Earache stuff was still really difficult to find in record stores (for a fourteen year-old anyway), but on a trip to San Francisco with my parents, a quick stop at Tower Records allowed me to locate the Symphonies LP. I didn't have a record player, so I had to listen to the album in the living room on my parent's record player on headphones, as there was no way in hell my dad would let me play the god-awful noise I was into at full volume on his stereo (I would buy blank tapes and record LPs onto cassette immediately, then shelve the LP). I remember opening the gatefold and being blown away by the intricately morbid photo collage. As the brief intro slithered to a conclusion and “Reek Of Putrefaction” kicked in, I was hooked. The lyrics were printed in crappy blue font directly onto the gatefold collage and between that and the medical terminology, it was impossible to figure out what the hell they were. My initial thought was that it was like early Napalm Death gone Death Metal. That of course, doesn't even begin to cover it.

The lyrics hooked me in immediately. I've always been a reader, and my mom was a nursing professor so the medical aspect was resonant, and the large words kind of created an insular nerdiness to being into the band that I wholeheartedly embraced. A couple months later I saw the band open for Death and Pestilence in Oakland. They were the first established band on Earache to play in the Bay Area (as far as I know), and finally hearing guitars tuned that low and blast beats in person pushed my friends and I fully into playing the more extreme stuff. On the ride home that night, after being blown away by Carcass, very, very impressed by Pestilence and disappointed by Death (the band only played a few songs as fill-in guitarist Albert Gonzalez of Evildead had insufficient time to learn the material), we decided to merge our bash-and-crash sessions with our proper “songs” and thus the concept for Exhumed was crystallized in the back seat of a Honda Civic on October 14th, 1990 in Oakland.

#12 Repulsion “Horrified”

When your favorite bands are Napalm Death and Carcass, the next logical question is “what's their favorite band?” In both cases the answer seemed to be Repulsion. After being intrigued but not blown away by their track “Radiation Sickness” on the Grind Crusher compilation, I tracked down the “Horrified” CD, and... almost didn't buy it because Matt Olivo was wearing a Tina Turner shirt in the band photo. For whatever reason, I pressed on and bought it, and holy shit, am I glad I did. After realizing that Napalm had nicked the opening riff to “Stench Of Burning Death” I started paying close attention. The fact that this was all recorded in 1986 is astounding. The record manages to combine Death Metal and Grindcore before most people even credit either of those genres as existing. I still think that this is the single most intense Death Metal or Grindcore album ever recorded, period. It has the killer Slayer / Death type riffs, with the snarl and attitude of Discharge, Celtic Frost and Slaughter and the speed of... well, no one else at the time.

Behind all the intensity is some quality guitar work from Matt Olivo, another criminally underrated player, and some genuinely catchy riffs and arrangements. Even their shortest song, “Pestilent Decay” at 1:05 is still a proper song, with hooks and some kind of musical development. The solos flail wildly against the ceaseless battering that Dave Grave inflicts upon his drum kit, all beneath the sneering vocals of Scott Carlson, who manages to infuse Death Metal vocals with attitude. That's the thing that really sets this album apart and keeps it sounding fresh. If it were simply “the fastest demo of 1986” it would be a novelty. But it's chock full of great songs and a swaggering, sarcastic rock and roll attitude that is so sadly lacking in modern metal. It's no wonder the American metal scene wasn't ready for this band in 1986, they were years ahead of everyone else and remain totally unique.

#13 Autopsy Severed Survival

Every summer as a kid I would spend a couple of weeks with my grandparents (until I got a job in 1991 when I was 15) and the last summer I spent with them was mostly spent by myself in a room with a downtuned Epiphone Les Paul learning the riffs on Severed Survival and attempting the solo in “Gasping For Air”- still one of my favorites. If any band makes me think of the adjective “sick” it's Autopsy. The lurching doom riffs on the album are literally the sound of a chill creeping down your spine and vomit creeping up into your throat. I know it's Death Metal, but this record sounds really fucking alive. It feels like you're in the room with the band, the oppressive heaviness of the riffs closing in around you like a coffin lid shutting. Chris' vocals literally sound like he's throwing up the entire time, and Stevie D's croaking bass adds a level of real depth missing on every Death Metal from record from Florida of the era.

Just as I thought I was getting away from “rock and roll” and into something much more extreme and dark, the solos on this album showed me that it's all still rock and roll. There are deranged pentatonic leads everywhere, keeping things loose and nasty, when the entire genre was moving towards being tighter and tidier. They've never walked that path, and my ears are extremely grateful for that. The first “real” show Exhumed ever played was opening for Autopsy in January of 1992 (our fourth or maybe fifth overall) and just watching them soundcheck was electrifying. The fact that they were cool guys who were nice to the sixteen-year old nerds playing with them makes that night even more special.
Honorable mentions:
Sepultura Beneath the Remains - the perfect Death / Thrash metal crossover
Entombed Left Hand Path - the perfect template for Swedish Death Metal
Possessed Seven Churches - the blueprint for Death Metal
Bathory Under the Sign of the Black Mark - an album so evil I literally hid it from my parents
Bolt Thrower Realm of Chaos - the grungiest riffs paired with blissfully nerdy cover art
The Cure Pornography - the most fun you'll ever have feeling completely depressed
Sonic Youth Daydream Nation - dissonance that's both jarring and fragile
My Bloody Valentine Loveless - a whirlwind of obscure, beautiful sounds
The Swans White Light From the Mouth of Infinity - the most depressing album of all time
N.W.A. Straight Outta Compton - the hip-hop Reign in Blood
Beastie Boys License to Ill - the ultimate party record and the first cassette tape I ever bought with my own money