I've waited a long time to lay my hands on this one, seeking down expensive and rare copies of it on CD, before finally finding it with At The Gate's Gardens of Grief for a much better price than I had previously imagines. And was it worth the wait? Fuck yes!
The songs on this release are from several different periods in the band's evolution, so the sound can vary quite drastically. Earlier songs really bring to mind Sepultura's Bestial Devastation in terms of production and playing, with quite a few mistakes that are easily overlooked in favour of the absolutely badass rawness of this album. The songs are rather technical, both in terms of structure and riffing, which weave asphyxiating tentacles around your neck and drag you into this nightmarish journey. "Angels Blood" is an especially long, epic number with quite a few changes of tempo and mood, and is counterbalanced by short, intense songs like "Spawn of Azathoth" and "Torn from the Cross," both of which feature sweltering, churning riffs. Tomas Lindberg's performance isn't too deathly, nor screechy, but a perfect, schizoid mix of the two, barking out a incessant malevolent lyrics to terrorize you.
Acoustics pop up in a few places, but only once or twice, and to great effect, and there are one or two tasty leads that give a very, very brief sense of melody amidst the chaotic whammy dives and shredding that dominate. Keyboards are also featured, very sparingly, I may add, but also to great effect, not a stone's throw from Dark Throne's Soulside Journey.
Two elements that really impress me here are the guitar tone and the drumming. That guitar tone is thick, kind of muddy and slick, similar to ATG's debut album, but a dead ringer for Liers In Wait (well, Necrolord was the guitarist and chief song writer in there too). On the earlier tracks, you can definately tell the production wasn't the best, because it doesn't have the sustain it could have, but you still have that thick sound. A few of the tracks feature Alf Svensson, and those are quite interesting, because you can hear the great difference between Necrolord and Alf, both of whom play different riffs, much like early ATG, but much more evil, of course.
I'm not sure who drums on all these tracks, and I was hoping that it was Shamaatae from Arckanum (he was one of their early drummers), but who ever it is, they are certainly impressive. The fills are all tasteful, and he never misses a beat. The blasting sections on some of the early material don't hold up very well, however, but that's about the only thing I can complain about on here.
I have called this proto-death metal, because it's not quite the death metal you normally associate with Sweden, and has a lot of totally kick as thrash-y riffs. Imagine if Morbid Angel had taken a different, slightly slower route after Abominations of Desolation, and inserted a bit of early Sepultura and Sodom into their mix...that's a bit of what this is like. This is evil, twisted death metal, the way it is supposed to be done, and is absolutely mandatory for all fans of Scandinavian metal in general.