GRAVEWORM, Collateral Defect (2007, Massacre)

The skull:
This would have been a lot more successful if they’d actually painted a crouching naked person to look like a skull, instead of just photoshopping a couple arms onto a skull. What was supposed (I assume) to be some kind of trompe l’oeil ends up looking like a skull sprouting limbs because he can’t think of a better way to get off this cover. You can imagine him grunting as with epic constipation, trying to squeeze out a couple legs so he can beat feet. “Man, I have GOT to get the hell off this Graveworm album. Shit, am I supposed to be in the sky or on the ground? Who can fucking tell? Feets, don’t fail me now!” But the feets, alas, have failed him indeed.

The music:
It seems like Italy’s Graveworm has always been around, always been mediocre. They hearken back to the first wave of shoddy melodic death metal knockoffs from outside of Scandinavia. Back in the early aughts, I heard Graveworm and thought, “This is okay, but there are really much better bands doing this.” Now, I listen Graveworm and think, “This is okay, but do we really still need any bands doing this?” At their worst, they sound like a cheap version of Children of Bodom, dressing up shitty power metal as teen-tough death metal. Fortunately, this is not their primary operating mode. Unfortunately, their primary mode entails highly generic, low-riff-density modern thrash mixed with gothic metal. Remember that shit? At least they don’t resort to contracting half the singing out to some “siren” putting her high school voice lessons to use, but it probably wouldn’t hurt if there were someone else working the mic besides Stefano Fiori, who fails to convince with growls, rasps, and every other technique he employs. I will say that I sort of enjoy the keyboards, though, and that in itself is somewhat remarkable. It’s not that Sabine Mair possesses any unique technical skill, and her keys are almost entirely atmospheric, but they frequently are the only interesting element in this otherwise drab music. Yes, she overuses her “strings” and “organ” patches for padding chords, but from time to time she busts out some neat little effect that really enlivens the tune, as with the spacey synth blooping that successfully distracts from the garden variety, power-ballad acoustic guitars in “Memories.” The keys are not enough to make Graveworm good, or at least not great, because really they’re not bad at all. It’s just that you’d probably have to be a very boring person to get excited by music that’s this middle-of-the-road.
— Friar Johnsen


BENEDICTION, Subconscious Terror  (1990, Nuclear Blast)

The skull:
This one rules. The skull is big enough to qualify its inclusion into the BDS Skullection, but its placement is subtle compared to everything else going on. First are the upraised arms, clearly not part of the skull, but a suggestion of murder-by-big-ass-knife. These arms threaten to plunge the knife into the middle of the island at the bottom of the image — the island just happening to have the profile of a human face. Floating in the ocean. Looking like a face. About to get stabbed. We’re not sure what’s happening here, but we like it. And then they fly the awful/awesome Benediction logo in red and yellow above all this. Voila! A pleasing if cluttered eyesore. Personally, I love their logo: primitive crayon-yellow lettering dripping blood, flanked on the left by a nun and on the right by an, err, evil nun. Don’t forget about the skull, which sits grimly in the back, a detached witness to something seriously demented. A subtle skull, yes, but it lords over this scene of terror with enough ghostly authority that we wholly approve!

The music:
Here’s a rare album where the intro piece is a highlight of the whole album: on “Portal To Your Phobias,” Barney Greenway (pre-Napalm Death, yessir) narrates in a totally demented fashion while nightmarish sounds whirl and howl underneath (Barney’s narration reminds of Von’s “Lamb,” if that means anything to you). On the proper songs, Barney sounds like Kam Lee of Massacre, and early Massacre is pretty much where Benediction’s first album is coming from. I’ve always had a soft spot for Subconscious Terror, and it’s one of few Benediction recordings I’d call “mandatory” while also recognizing that it’s no classic. It’s just mandatory in my world. You can do what you want. After their Dark is the Season EP, they started to decline, ending up at full-on brown metal by the mid ’90s, but this thing undeniably reeks of ancient death metal primitiveness. As said, it sounds a lot like early Massacre, and that’s terrific to these ears. The production is raw and clangy and not at all pretty. Its basement-death metal vibe gives the music a certain aesthetic, sounding, if not like death, then like hell. Hell in a garage. The rhythm guitars sound like vacuum cleaners and the guitar leads are slightly more structured/melodic than your typical Rick Rozz ridiculousness/awesomeness. Tempos shift often enough to keep you guessing, but there’s no real complexity here. Doesn’t need to be either. The whole thing sounds like it’s rattling around in a big old steel bucket, dark, hollow and helpless (thank you Mr. Mick Harris, who produced this loveable ugliness). If I could change one thing it would be a remix that brings down the drums in volume — sizzly cymbals and paint buckets both — which dominate the album way too much. But I’ll take Subconscious Terror “as is.”
— Friar Wagner