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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - King Diamond

eclectic reviews and opinions


Amon Amarth

The Crusher

(Metal Blade, 2001)



(Metal Blade, 2001)

God Dethroned


(Metal Blade, 2001)

King Diamond/Black Rose

20 Years Ago: A Night of Rehearsal

(Metal Blade, 2001)

Funny how things go sometimes, isn't it? A quartet of new albums from the Metal Blade label on my review stack, who'd have thought? The first record I bought on Metal Blade was the compilation Metal Massacre II, in 1983. Most of the other Snap Pop! staff writers had long since discovered punk, but until the fall of '83 I was stuck in Western and Maryland corn and cow country, and the most rebellious music I'd yet managed to find was the radio-unfriendly import heavy metal stocked by a tiny, doomed record store near the supermarket some fifteen or twenty miles from home. When I escaped to college, of course, I'd start to hear stuff that would make me disown most of the records I smuggled so carefully into the house (and anyway, the rise of hair metal and the power ballad would send most of the genre toiletwards), but in 1983 there was just Blueberry records and tapes. I probably bought the "Massacre" record because every "A" in the chrome lettered logo was a stylized Gibson flying-V, the metal über guitar of the day. Even back then, I wasn't very impressed by a lot of the bands on the LP, and even then I thought "Armored Saint" was one of the silliest band names I'd yet heard. So Metal Massacre II was probably one of the last Metal Blade records I bought, until '85 or so when they started releasing punkier stuff, like D.R.I..

I was kinda psyched to find these CDs, with their covers so full of red and black and monsters and ridiculously ornate lettering, tempting me to listen to them. Heavy metal is no longer my daily bread, but I've heard a few things here and there, enough to know that the genre's been through plenty of changes, even though my reference points are pretty old-school. But I thought it would be fun to try to extrapolate what I would have thought of these albums if I'd heard them back then.

Amon Amarth's The Crusher is a loose concept album about a war between adherents to the old Norse gods (that would be the band) and a bunch of intruding Christians. The songs are so full of references to Norse mythology, they might almost qualify as educational, although lines like "Masters of war torment every soul/Rape every whore that carries the cross" probably wouldn't have gone over well with my ex-nun English teacher. ("Rape every whore who carries the cross"? Um, that might not have been her only objection.) Vocalist Johan Hegg is almost completely uninterested in pitch; he delivers most of the lyrics in a guttural bellow and sometimes screams a little higher, but he doesn't really attempt "notes" as such. The drums are frequently superfast -- I find it hard to believe that the kick isn't programmed on songs like "A Fury Divine" because even with a double-bass it doesn't quite sound physically possible -- but everything else is sorta mid-tempo, which I find a little distracting. Guitarists Soderberg and Mikkonen layer part after part, all distortion saturated and muddy, and their solos are strictly perfunctory (they aren't even given much space in the mix). In 1983, I wouldn't have known that the spastic drums and tuneless vocals were cross-pollination from industrial music, but I still wouldn't have liked them. The record might have made me wonder if it were time to replace my phonograph needle.

Cydonia's self-titled release has narrative interludes and an extra page of liner notes so that you can follow the story, which is about the end of civilization on the planet Mars. This is in case you somehow manage to miss the point of lyrics like "Fire on all mounts, ice in all hearts/The destruction of Mars can't be avoided." It's even sillier than Rush's 2112 (which I used to listen to almost daily). It reminds me a bit of the early days of Queensryche, probably mostly because of vocalist Dan Keying's fondness for his upper register, sudden squeals and self-harmonizing. It's heavy, but it's full of big major key progressions that are almost goofily poppy. In 1983, guitarist Steve Sguario would have floored me: his solos slip between fast figures and long bends like Joe Satriani (Dio's Vivian Campbell comes to mind in his rhythm sound, too). Actually, even now he strikes me as an above average metal player, he's wanky and indulgent, but at least he has some character. The first three songs are pretty good, but the album loses momentum as it wears on. I wouldn't much like keyboardist Lee Crow's contributions in any decade -- a wimpifying influence -- but the orchestra stabs in "Great Soul of Steel," especially, are entirely too much.

The lyrics of God Dethroned's Ravenous are surprisingly good in a sub-Marilyn Manson one-note kinda way. I like "Oh eve, do you like my snakeskin suit?/Oh eve, touch my skin it feels so smooth" from "The Poison Apple" and the slightly homoerotic (very atypical for metal) "No, he was licking my wounds/No, he had his lips on my wounds" from the title track. It mostly sounds like early Metallica, maybe sped up a little bit, but many of the lead breaks with Jens Van Der Valk and "The Serpent King" (real name Henri Sattler) winding notes around each other are surprisingly lyrical, even, dare I say, "pretty." Sattler's vocals are in the "bellow tunelessly" category, but at least he doesn't completely ignore the tempo of the songs. Even back in '83, though, it would have seemed like a pretty big dose of very much one thing -- it would work better in a mix of other metal tunes.

A couple of years after the 20 Years Ago: A Night of Rehearsal session was taped, singer King Diamond would form the much better-known Mercyful Fate, but this remarkable recording is of his distinctly Deep Purple-flavored earlier band (with maybe a little early Blue Öyster Cult seasoning), Black Rose. I wouldn't call it "metal" at all, it's much more of a proggy hard rock thing. What's remarkable is that it's completely live to 2-track through an 8-channel mixer, complete with false starts, inter-song tuning noises, plenty of room sound, and not a whole lot of clean up. You can even hear some sort of ventilation system going in the background. It's the sort of thing that never actually gets released. Back in 1983 the novelty of it would have totally floored me. These days I can listen to my own rehearsal tapes, but I still think it's pretty cool. I love it when a band has the guts to do something without a net, at least when they're tight enough to pull it off. They are, and I hear a lot more genuine musical interplay in this one than anything else in the stack.

These reviews originally appeared in Snap Pop! magazine.

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