BENEDICTION, Subconscious Terror (1990, Nuclear Blast)
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!
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