Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Decapitated - Winds of Creation (2000)
Let's clear the obvious: I don't know of too many death metal bands who were performing at such a level of proficiency at so early an age...most of them still teens during this era, and playing progressions of notes with both a precision and agility that would make Trey Azagthoth blush. I chose that man intentionally, because I feel that somewhere along the line, it was his intense velocity picking on records like Altars of Madness, Covenant and Domination which might have inspired Vogg's playing. Other than that, there's not much of a comparison I might make elsewhere in death metal...Decapitated were brutal and incorporated a lot of the dense chugging components one might expect, but they were always interesting and served primarily as bridges between the classically-inspired progressions that put the band on the map. The riffs included some inherent groove to them, but were also incredibly detailed and complex...which would mean nothing if they weren't so goddamned catchy. Even if I listen to renowned records like None So Vile or Pierced from Within, the intricacy and forethought of these particular tunes reveals an entire other level of calculation and execution. Mysticism and technique translated into pure concussion, and hopefully (but not ultimately) the precursors to many such exhibitions to come. Part of Decapitated's appeal was pure spectacle, but these were not songs lacking in substance...in fact, they patented a form of gluey guitar porn here which has been gangbanging my gray matter ever since.
Fuck, just the riffing of "Blessed" alone is more inventive and impressive than the sum of ideas found on most brutal death metal records, and though I won't call the music 'accessible' to a broad audience, it's surprisingly easy to follow regardless of the acrobatics. A fusion of old school tremolo picked death metal aesthetics via the Floridian forerunners with something more eloquent, accurate and explosive. Eager and technical enough to assert itself into a younger generation of listeners raised on soulless, brutal death metal where technique, mosh culture and soulless brutality took center stage above songwriting, but also itself a flavorful and solid example of the latter, substantial enough for death vets like myself to spin it endlessly (at least so far). This is not a PERFECT album, it didn't entirely rewrite the playbook for me like those first two Pestilence discs, or Left Hand Path, or Realm of Chaos, but it was certainly unexpected that such a young band could come forth and help reinvigorate my interest in the largely stagnant cesspool of soundalikes that the medium had long been steered towards. And it doesn't just end with the rhythm guitars, because the leads are frilly and exciting, the drumming of the late Vitek far better balanced and grooved out than on the band's previous demos, and even the bass-playing here dextrous and mandatory to anchor down the mile a minute guitar picking centered on endlessly genius 'fills' of note choices.
Sauron's probably the least advanced figure in this equation, but his blunt guttural presentation proves a welcome contrast against the brighter, thinner guitar picking. Like a neanderthal being tapped to present the latest NASA technology, he's got an expressive low-end roar somewhere between a Karl Willetts and Frank Mullen, and throws a lot of decayed sustain that stands out against the clinical production of those goddamned guitars. Though Winds of Creation is largely culled from the Eye of Horus demo (1998), it sounds deeper, darker, more serious and sinister, otherworldly beings channeled into the limbs and lips of a quartet of young Polish gentlemen. It's also quite compact: just about 30 minutes of concise, incredible content before the "Dance Macabre" ambient outro leads into an excellent cover of Slayer's "Mandatory Suicide" which maintains the original's sense of heinous despair, while making it their own. Granted, I felt like, as with most album-closer cover songs, that it did detract a little from the supernova of excitement and originality that they were creating with their own content, but if you're going to include one, even such a safe choice, then it must be at least this good.
Otherwise, the only complaint I might have is the shitty imagery on the cover art, which looks fiery and acceptable at a distance but really just seems like the cluttered, computer-generated garbage you'd find on a lot of records in the latter half of the 90s (Monstrosity was also guilty of this on their sophomore). But it seems a moot complaint when the music is just this impressive. Winds of Creation might not be perfect, and I might not short-list it among the 10-20 death metal records I'd bring with me to a desert island, but it is the only valid justification for the band's considerable career hype, and an album they have yet to match. I do appreciate other Decapitated discs for other reasons, and the aesthetics of this one certainly fuel the followup Nihility to some extent, but the amount of effort Vogg packs into individual tracks seems to have devolved, to have dumbed itself down on subsequent recordings. I can only imagine what travel in the opposite direction might have offered us, but at least this debut still stands as a standard-setting monolith for what a musician can pull off, even at such an impressively young age. Am I jealous much? Well, I definitely was the first 50 times I popped this in my CD player. How could I not be? Tremendous stuff.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (their gods are only illusions)