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Sunday September 24th 2017

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New York Death Metal: a primer

nydm.orgReputable as one of America’s most populous and culturally rich regions, our fair state of New York naturally boasts its own timeworn death metal tradition. In regards to notoriety and scope of influence, New York Death Metal (handily abbreviated as NYDM) is the cold, northern counterpart to the world-famous Floridian style: both scenes seem to have given rise to an equally high number of classic bands, each of whom scrawled their names into the very framework of the death metal movement by blood-rusted knifepoint. Generally, NYDM bands tend to converge onto a readily recognizable “sound”, bearing certain idiomatic traits: severe, sub-Sabbath downtuning; remarkably guttural vocals; and–most importantly–an expert dictation of rhythm (we have that talent because our reservoirs are built on ancient Mohican burial grounds, and many of us are haunted by the ghosts of shamanic ritual-dancers. But let’s not digress!). Within this examination (designated a “primer” because it doesn’t even attempt to be exhaustive) all the scene’s major players will be earmarked and elucidated for your listening benefit:

Suffocation: Even the most pedestrian of metalheads find amusement in the odd tendency for NYDM band names to end in “-tion”; Long Island’s Suffocation are the most well-known of the bunch, owing to their perfection and mass-proliferation of the percussive variant of death metal, which has–for better or for worse–spawned them an army of imitators. Though it’s unlikely that they were named after their own playing style, Suffocation’s riffs are almost entirely palm-muted: it sounds as if the guitarists were violently asphyxiating their own instruments, only relenting the chokehold to allow for terrifying solos to scream out. Extremely convoluted in structure and rhythmically patterned like a surgical research dissertation rendered in Morse code, a Suffocation song is narratively equivalent to a trip through the slaughterhouse, where listeners are systematically dismembered, flesh and entrails mechanically separated, and finally pulsated into mounds of human hamburger. Except it’s all a lot more fun than that sounds.

Suffocation – “Liege of Inveracity” from Effigy Of The Forgotten

Immolation: Immolation technically began their career as early as the mid-’80s, releasing demos under the moniker Rigor Mortis. Lucky enough for the Texan Rigor Mortis, they soon renamed themselves after adding more complexity and darkness to their compositions, and after enlisting frontman Ross Dolan: a central figure for his bestially sub-bass yet intelligible growls, providing the most appropriate vocal medium for Immolation’s piercingly articulate, almost Nietzchean denouncement of Christianity and the humanist cancer at its core. Aesthetically overwhelming for their dissonant, squalling riffs and aggressively clangorous percussion, Immolation songs are nonetheless highly architectonic and–paradoxically–are comparable to Bach’s or Mozart’s holiest works– their forms twisted and warped under the ravages of hellfire. Also standing as a testament to their compositional prowess, Immolation are known to have consistently released quality albums through the entirety of their 20+ years of existence — a commendable feat for death metal, or even modern music in general.

Immolation – “Towards Earth” from Here In After

Incantation: The most occult band on the NYDM front, the goat-worshipping Incantation inadvertently spawned the Northeast’s black metal scene early in its lifespan, after three of its original members called it quits and thereafter formed blaspheming stunt-troupe Profanatica and the related project Havohej. The sole remaining member, guitarist John McEntee, then took Incantation’s direction into his own hands, fusing the lengthy phrasings of early Slayer, Possessed, and Necrovore with the undulating northern darkness that was quickly becoming a trademark of the region; the resulting torrential assault was brought to sublime perfection on the 1992 debut Onward To Golgotha, although Incantation haven’t significantly altered their methods since then. The band is also infamous for having an absolutely insane revolving-door of lineup changes, with McEntee being the only constant in the equation. But it’s all part of the excitement: you never know who will hook up with Incan next!

Incantation – “Entrantment of Evil” from Onward To Golgotha

Morpheus Descends: Originally known as simply “Morpheus”, Morpheus Descends probably rechristened themselves after realizing that they were facing some competition for the name, notably from Sweden. Immediate brethren to Suffocation in their desire to push the boundaries of brutality in death metal, but not as refined in technique, the Middletown quintet crafted primal wardances out of syncopated, sledge-hammering riffs rendered with quake-like guitarwork that made even Swedish distortion sound tame in comparison. Their debut album Ritual Of Infinity is just as excellent as anything else in the classic NYDM canon–and their sophomore releases are of similar quality–but Morpheus Descends’ inability to cohere past the mid-’90s meant that they would never achieve the same level of recognition as their peers in Suffo, Immo, and Incan. Their influence, though, lurks under the skin of the now-teeming brutal death metal movement– whether the bands in question are aware of it or not!

Morpheus Descends – “Trephanation” from Ritual Of Infinity

Baphomet: Chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk — Why, that must be the sound of the Baphomet train thundering down the tracks, heavily laden with its precious cargo of munitions, coal, and piles of human skulls. Stylistically, this band is similar to Morpheus Descends through its interplay of pounding, syncopated riffs, but there are also rippingly fast passages culled from the Bay Area and Floridian schools, which uncannily reflects a parallel to the early works of Sinister. This is another band that disintegrated all too early on (they continued under the new name “Banished” but they lost the spark by then) and were thus “Condemned To Obscurity” as the Gorguts messieurs from up north would put it, but their sole full-length, The Dead Shall Inherit, remains a New York classic worthy of your time and adoration.

Baphomet – “Boiled In Blood” from The Dead Shall Inherit

Mortician: In an effort to create the most brutal music in the world, the horror-obsessed duo of Mortician–Will Rahmer and Roger Beaujard (also of Malignancy, except he actually played drums instead of guitar in that band)–downtuned their guitar strings into al dente spaghetti and then borrowed a couple of their favorite Autopsy and Carcass riffs, streamlined them, and cranked up the speed to such a level that they were hard-pressed to find a drummer to match. Faced with this predicament, Beaujard brought a drum machine into the mix, providing the constant stream of blast beats that they needed; at the time, this was supposed to be a huge innovation that was only contemporaneously achieved by Godflesh, but it’s really just irrelevant in the context of Mortician’s witless gurglings. The band also relies on another gimmick, which is to include slasher-flick excerpts in all of their songs; what this means, though, is that at least 25% of Mortician’s discography is guaranteed to be useless noise placed strategically between each track to make the tedium less noticeable.

Mortician – “Three on a Meathook” from Hacked Up For Barbeque

Pyrexia: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Suffocation!™ If the idea of “Effigy Of The Forgotten — Part II” sounds tantalizing to you, then by all means look for a copy of Pyrexia’s Sermon Of Mockery (but for Christ’s sake, don’t look for an actual copy of the album, as it’s been out of print for years [not even Pathos Productions carries it anymore!] and all surviving CDs are now worth a small fortune): it’s virtually indistinguishable from the original product, save for obvious disparities in production, and a subtly more raw sense of musicianship on Pyrexia’s end. Their status as Suffocation’s most veracious liege was short-lived however, as they quickly degenerated into a post-hardcore schlock outfit. Avoid all subsequent releases from Sermon, unless you like “dope breakdowns” in your “def metal”.

Pyrexia – “Abominat” from Sermon Of Mockery

Malignancy: Like Immolation, Malignancy hail from Yonkers just north of the New York City limits, and similarly display a bizarre and highly dissonant handle on songwriting (not to mention all those pinch harmonics squealing out like impaled swine or flogged priests). But instead of crafting panoramic tonal representations of Bosch-ian hell realms like their hometown heroes, Malignancy were more inclined towards the jarring disjointedness of grindcore– especially the kind purveyed by British pathology-enthusiasts Carcass, or Michigan corpse-molesters Repulsion. As such, the band began on a firm deathgrind foundation, but as the years progressed they started to tinker more and more with unorthodox technique; guitarist Ron Kachnic in particular studied the pinch harmonic with such martial fervency that it borderlined on the absurd. Nowadays, the music of Malignancy resembles free jazz transported to a dysenteric fantasyland of gutbucket sodomy. Not for everyone!

Malignancy – “Rotten Seed” from Intrauterine Cannibalism

Winter: Placed last on this list for major stylistic differences with the bands previously summarized, Winter are pioneers of the death-doom genre, which is essentially a fusion of Celtic Frost/Hellhammer-inspired dirges (think “Triumph of Death“) with the more abrasive aesthetics of American death metal– impressively, they nailed the sound well before Autopsy could even come out with Mental Funeral! Proudly bearing the contradictory honor as “the slowest band in the world” amidst the cutthroat-fast society of New York City, Winter trudged forth with songs reflective of the steady, insidious decay that is inevitable to all things that cannot withstand eternity: a concept that time and again proves to be mankind’s ultimate buzzkill.

Winter – “Eternal Frost” from Into Darkness

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2 Responses to “New York Death Metal: a primer”

  1. Myron says:

    Sweet!! great and intense long live NYDM !!!

  2. Z.K. Dundon says:

    Right on, Myron! Horns up!

    Also, I fixed all the broken links, guys. Sorry about that!

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