FLAMING SKULL, Brutal Murder (2006, demo)

The skull:
A flaming skull! The name says it all, and there’s really nothing NOT to like about this cover. Despite some serious-looking fissures in his dome, and some inexplicable dental issues (are his teeth on fire?), this skull looks quite happy, as if all he ever wanted to do was to flame. There are even cute little fires burning in his eye sockets. When this guy flames, he flames all out. It’s the conflagration sensation that’s sweeping the nation. I also appreciate that while the skull itself is fairly well rendered, the flames look like they were painted by a young child who has perhaps never seen fire firsthand. Lastly, the amateurishness of the logo contrasts nicely with the generic blandness of the title font. This BDS is truly a work of art.

The music:
Death metal from Bogata that parties like it’s 1986. Scream Bloody Gore and early Autopsy are the touchstones here: sloppy, inarticulate, and totally forgettable. There’s a certain charm to the guilelessness of early death metal that’s basically impossible to recapture. Those bands were messy and artless because they were just dumb teenagers who didn’t know any better. I don’t understand why anyone would want to try to recreate that, after 20 years of further innovation and refinement. You can suck like Mantas, but you’ll never be Mantas.
— Friar Johnsen


CRADLE TO GRAVE, CTG (2004, Year of the Sun)

The skull:
Fire and ice, baby! Fire and ice! The purity of vision here is to be commended: black background, skull, illegible logo on forehead, nothing else. The flames look they were created by following the instructions in the first link returned by Googling, “photoshop fire”, but otherwise, this is a finely crafted BDS.

The music:
Filed under “groove metal” in Metal Archives, this is one of those bands who sound immediately familiar, yet it’s impossible to say who they sound like. I think this is because people of taste generally don’t listen to any bands like this on purpose, and yet we encounter them all the time, as the first opening band of a six band touring package, or drifting out of Hot Topic as we walk past on our way to the food court while Christmas shopping. Terrible tough-guy vocals distract from some occasionally decent riffing, but the grey, midpaced monotony of the songwriting makes it rather hard to sit through more than a track or two before the mind starts to wander. I am not inspired to pursue their discography any further, and if they produce another big dumb skull as choice as CTG‘s, I’ll give Friar Wagner a chance to cut his teeth on Cradle to Grave.
– Friar Johnsen


SPINAL TAP, Christmas With the Devil (1984, Enigma Records)

The skull:
A long-horned skull opens his gaping mouth, ready to swallow all sinners into the evil fires behind him. While wearing a Santa hat. The green and red color scheme is a nice touch, and the artwork is pretty much a literal depiction of the song title. Long live the Tap!

The music:
Typically silly, of course. The song’s groove is lurching, slow, bluesy, and almost sexual in its rhythmic slo-mentum. Almost nothing to do with traditional Christmas music as we know it, save for the church organ sounds. Borders on proto-doom in the second half. It’s Spinal Tap, so it’s intentionally dumb but also a lot of fun…and gotta love this lyric: “The elves are dressed in leather and the angels are in chains / Sugar plums are rancid and the stockings are in flames.” B-side “scratch mix” version is a redundant waste of time, really. This song is legitimately better than a hundred or so more serious-minded German hard rock/heavy metal bands from the same era.
— Friar Wagner