CORE, Act of Hate (2012, Southcore)
As an example of the mushroom cloud skull, this is as close to the archetype as you could reasonably expect a cover to come. It’s well drawn, and the ruined city beneath is a nice touch. I couldn’t say why the whole thing needed to be slathered in a thick layer of shit brown, though, except to speculate that Core were actually running down some kind of BDS checklist when they conceived of this artwork. Sure, this album was released 11 months before we Friars convened at this virtual monastery, but the will and desire of The Council are so strong that I suspect the entire human race feels the pull of The Skull in their dreams, like some vast Jungian synchronicity. I think it’s only a matter of time before some band designs their cover with the express intent of landing a spot in these hallowed halls, and I should say, such shameless attempts at currying The Council’s favor are highly likely to work, so get on it, ye bands of narrow vision!
Core never released an album, only some demos and some compilation tracks, and this disc collects them all together. In 2013, you might think that a band called Core were a technical death metal band or something, but in 1995, when this band was in its heyday, a name like Core immediately signaled that you were gonna get some shitty Pantera-inspired groove thrash. It’s kind of hard to remember those dark times, because that style of music has almost entirely gone away, but back in the mid 90s, these sorts of shitty Far Beyond Driven-meets-Roots amalgams were positively everywhere, and inescapable. Creatively bankrupt and aesthetically impotent, this stuff was the pits 20 years ago and it hasn’t gotten any better since. That said, guitarist/vocalist Dejan Knezevic is currently in a band called Pelvic Meatloaf, and I’m sure they’re awesome.
— Friar Johnsen
RELLIK, Killer (2001, Doomed Planet)
This skull looks so desperate for a bite, he’ll chomp down on any damn thing. A logo made of stone, a rat, a mushroom cloud…whatever’s in the vicinity, he’s gotta eat it. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, Rellik is Killer backwards. But the skull don’t care. He just wants to keep eating whatever you throw his way. Killer cover!
I remember reading about this California band in Metal Rendezvous ‘zine back in the day. They sounded interesting, but their 1986 EP was pretty much impossible to find, so I’ve never actually heard them until now. Rellik inhabits that special little space occupied by bands such as Serpent’s Knight, Slauter Xstroyes, and S.A. Slayer. The vocals are especially in line with any of those bands (squeaky, high and weird), the music a bit more straightfoward than S.A. Slayer or Slauter Xstroyes, but you get the idea. Basically Snakepit-metal, if that makes any sense to you. Which can sometimes be a totally great thing, but sometimes it’s just another forgotten old band who deserved obscurity because they just weren’t that good. While Rellik’s music is pretty okay in spots (the solo section of “Street Sinner”), there’s nothing here that requires immediate investigation. This compilation combined the only recordings they made, from 1986 and 1990, with three other tracks that never saw the light of day. If you’ve lived without them this long, you can keep living a Rellik-less life.
— Friar Wagner
THE MANDRAKE, The Burning Horizon at the End of Dawn (2004, Crash)
The skull looks down in an apparently forlorn gaze, contemplating the blood-red ocean to his left and the holocaust skies on the horizon. Faintly we see a poorly Photoshopped mushroom cloud woven into the sky, and you don’t have to use much imagination to envision a skull face in that fiery cloud. Or maybe it’s a head of cauliflower.
The Mandrake are one of few bands I’ve heard from the Crash stable that are actually competent. (One of the worst labels ever, for a few different reasons.) The Colorado natives play melodic death metal before it lost the “death” and amped up the “melodic.” Think The Everdawn and Gates of Ishtar. Good. Now throw capable but generic low death metal vocals on top. It’s another of hundreds of examples of capable, even talented U.S. bands looking overseas for inspiration and coming back home with nothing but a postcard of the real scenery. Later material traded some of their semi-esoteric riffs for a bunch of chunka-chunka ones. Active since 2001, The Mandrake should be finding their own artistic voice any decade now.
— Friar Wagner