Thursday, May 16, 2013

Insanity - Death After Death (1994)

Perhaps it was the artistic exodus from metal that plagued the middle of the 90s, or perhaps it was the bland band moniker (there must be at least a dozen other Insanities), or perhaps even that San Francisco's Insanity was playing such a heavily 80s hybrid of thrash and death metal in a time when brutality, technicality, gore soaked and misogynist lyrics were emerging as the preeminent factors in the field. Even if all three factors contributed to this record's obscurity, I think it would be hard to argue that Death After Death deserved better than it got, and in today's heavily nostalgic underground climate, this Hell's Headbangers vinyl reissue is definitely likely to stab the attention spans of those who were previously ignorant of its existence.

Of course, just how 'death metal' this album is/was will vary by perspective. Treacherously little of the morbid tremolo-styled riffs or crushing palm-muted grooves one would expect. Personally I find it to be a more hyperactive mesh of speed and thrash metal with some more-aggressive-than-normal vocals had they been on an 80s record; almost as if you cranked up the celerity of Possessed, welded in some wild licks that wouldn't have been out of question for Dave Mustaine to perform in his prime, and perhaps a hint of other psycho blitzers like Whiplash, (early) Exodus and Dark Angel for good measure. Splatter speed. Morbid Saint and Ripping Corpse might also be decent reference points, but for my money, both of them had transitioned further over into the death spectrum. The drums of Bud Mills, though, could definitely be counted among the Hoglans and Lombardos in their impact on more extreme metal later. But regardless of its precise classification, Death After Death is the sort of invigorated, energizing affair that occasionally eschews rhyme and reason for a crash bang wallop of accelerated abuse that might damn well appeal to thrash/speed purists, proto-death mavens, or even those crossover fans who like a more metallic centrism to the material. It's not incredibly memorable, but it very much puts me back into that mid to late 80s mood (rather than the 90s in which it was dropped).

Calculated, spastic street riffing dominates pieces like "Attack of Archangels", "Morbid Lust", and "Blood for Blood" (coincidentally my favorites here), but the band sounds cruel and raw even when slowing to a mid-paced neck straining sequence. The leads are lunacy given flesh, flashy and spurious but not so gratingly atonal and caustic as, say, Slayer. The drums are definitely capable of sustaining a double bass rampage, and the kicks and snappy snares definitely distinguish themselves in the mix. Bass playing here is pretty busy too, but subjugated by the rhythm guitars, unfortunately pretty standard for thrash of the late 80s/early 90s. What I'm most impressed with are the surgical sounding lead/melody lines embedded into riffs like the one at the minute mark in "Possession", or leading off "Rotting Decay", which coincidentally also has some of the best bass guitar progressions on the record. Interestingly enough composed that I think Insanity lives up to their (rather generic) name, and might have had a more visible career in technical thrash ala later Nasty Savage had they only arrived with this full-length a few years earlier (they were still doing demos for much of the 80s).

I should also say that the vocals here are quite primal and abusive, occasionally with a little growl to the sustained notes, but otherwise like a mix of Don Doty, Nasty Ronnie and Jeff Becerra. Over the top and murderous barking which often sounds like a one-man gang shout. They really don't have much by way of a memorable chorus anywhere, but most of the tunes are at least as exhilarating as a night at the zoo when a predator becomes uncaged and starts mutilating the guests. Insanity also tries its hand at acoustic passages ("In Memory") and exhibit some classical picking/training; feels thinly produced, and a little out of place and disjointed with the metal intensity, but hinting at broader musical tastes. In the end, while I wasn't entirely in love with the album, there are at least 5-6 tunes on Death After Death which are pedal to the metal, balls out ballistic exercises worth pursuing. A marginal cult classic status is deserved, and with the vastly improved cover artwork for the new gatefold vinyl, it might be time for collectors or fanatics for any of the other bands I name-checked in this review to end their negligence and give Insanity a listen. Unless they/you already HAVE, in which case have another golden star.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

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