Monday, November 7, 2011

Mayhem - Deathcrush EP (1987)

To deny the influence of Deathcrush upon the sum of second wave (and beyond) black metal worldwide would be like denying Elvis Presley's influence on the pompadour. It would prove too difficult to imagine one with the other, and black metal, like the vintage 50s haircut, just wouldn't be as cool without its fashionable progenitor. Now, I'm not saying that Mayhem had the 'first' black metal record on their hands with this, since bands like Venom, Hellhammer and Bathory had aesthetically beaten them to the punch there, but I think as far as most of that which would follow, this is an undeniable inspiration, the original schoolyard bully that whipped its students into a frenzy of blasphemy that has yet to subside. Deathcrush does embody all of the hostility and ugliness that the niche was intended for, and does it damnably well despite any flaws in its production or death of complexity in its crude songwriting.

If, for me, this EP is less than perfect, I can't really attribute the drawbacks to the Mayhem material itself. "Deathcrush" is a disgustingly excellent piece, with its punk and speed metal clamor of dire grooves and blasted dissension. Necrobutcher's bass-lines just ooze ominously from the pores of the drums and guitar, and Maniac is far too true to his stage name, perhaps the wildest of rasping metal vocalists to the EP's date and time. Honestly, I can think of only one that could compare, Quorthon himself, and Maniac STILL feels more bloody. Then there are the pair of 'necrophiliac' anthems: "Chainsaw Gutsfuck" with it's slower paced, bass-driven wrath, and its sibling "Necrolust", which starts at a similar speed but then picks up into raw, chaotic sewage so goddamn calamitous that it's a wonder Maniac can still ride atop its primordial mass. Like some ancient jockey who scored himself a woolly mammoth, its flanks pocked by spears and their resultant viscera. Then, of course, there is "Pure Fucking Armageddon", which explodes out of its opening bass-warp and feedback into a riff that makes you want to mosh the fucking devil under the dirt. Those first vocal lines (by Messiah) are among the more menacing I've ever heard in the whole genre...

But where Deathcrush threatens to dissemble is in its balance of entrails wrenching black metal with the remainder of its content. "Silvester Anfang", a marching percussive intro which the band scored out of correspondence with electronica legend Conrad Schnitzler of Tangerine Dream, might function as a dire portent of cadence, but it really doesn't flow into the title track, and I can't help but feel that something more effectively transitory would have just KILLED this motherfucker. The cover of Venom's Witching Hour (Welcome to Hell, 1981) is brutal and messy enough to fit in with their original tunes, but I found myself caring for nothing more than the vocals, through which Maniac manages to make Cronos seem like Tony Bennett by comparison. Also, "(Weird) Manheim", while a somewhat creepy intro piece with warped piano effects, just doesn't flow for me into "Pure Fucking Armageddon".

These ideas of using martial ambient and scary acoustic sounds to flesh out and diversify the track list are certainly influential, and it became a tradition for black metal bands to utilize the 'intros' with synthesized and orchestrated keys and strings, but here on Deathcrush they just don't work for me all that much. Had this been constrained to just the four original metal tunes, I'd find it difficult to find any fault to it. The riffs might not all be memorable, but the general atmosphere of Mayhem was fucking infallible, and the songs, despite their innate, rough and tumble amateur transitional ability, are all classics in their own right...still some of my favorites from this particular band.

I think it's also important to distinguish that Deathcrush, while archetypal for so many other acts to follow, is not necessarily prototypical to Mayhem. This is not as structured as De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas by a long shot, nor is the musicianship and experimentation anywhere in range of their later works like Chimera or Ordo ad Chao. In fact, outside of the intros, this really isn't experimental whatsoever. These songs are about the attitude. The filth. Pissing in the cereal of all who would welcome offense. The lyrics are perverse, especially for the corpse copulation hymns "Chainsaw Gutsfuck" and "Necrolust". These offer a distinctly death metal aesthetic to the recording, and yet that too was a formative genre at this point. Cannibal Corpse hadn't even got out their first full-length yet. Certainly no "Meat Hook Sodomy" or "Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's Cunt" on the public conscience in 1987. We were all still shocked by Slayer.

Judging such an indisputably important record as this one is not easy. For one, I actually admire that the band were big enough Tangerine Dream fans to enlist Conrad to contribute the intro. What an honor that must have been! But as far as "Silvester Anfang" itself, I fail to see what it adds to the record outside of maybe a brief, 'military' component that jives with the title (which conjures images of tanks, certainly). "(Weird) Manheim" I could just do without, and had these two pieces been omitted or replaced with something more fitting or abusively flush with the ensuing hellfire, I might rank Deathcrush a little higher. Regardless of this minor nitpicking, the record is still a classic, and though I like all of their later full-length efforts to varying degrees, I could never justly prioritize any of them over this martyr of moral corrosion. I mean, I love Attila and all, but really...Maniac...better than Elvis.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (the barbeque has just begun)

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