ARBITRATER, Darkened Reality  (1993, Cyclone)

The skull:
Looks like North America is suffering an impossibly gigantic pimple of bone; a hellish, ugly growth that North America does not want its neighbors in Europe and Africa to see. It better wear a baseball cap when it goes out. Added bonus is the reflection of the upper teeth in the water.

The music:
Thrash metal from the UK was a dicey proposition even in the genre’s heyday of 1987/1988, so the prospect of listening to some obscure UK thrash band’s second album from 1993 is a grim one. Surprisingly, this is not half bad. Which means it’s about half good. And only half good. The guitar tone is appropriately fried, and there are moments that compare favorably to early Xentrix or Dyoxen (although “compare favorably to Xentrix” is not necessarily a compliment in my world). The vocals are incredibly average, but this being UK thrash, you expect that. There’s not a lot of super-fast stuff here either — Arbitrater take their time with their thrashing. But listen long enough and you’ll find a scattering of semi-potent riffs that a Bay Area band like Defiance would surely have liked to co-opt (“Deadline,” “No Second Chance”). Unfortunately, songs like “Suicide Commercially” (huh?) and “Guilty of No Crime” offer nothing of use. And I’m referencing bands like Xentrix, Dyoxen and Defiance, so you see that this is decent at best — hardly mandatory thrash. You also see where this sits in the thrash hierarchy — decide for yourself if you need to track it down or not.
— Friar Wagner


THE CHASM, Procession to the Infraworld (2000, Dwell)

The skull:
I suppose this could be a trick of perspective, where a human-sized skull is very close and merely appears to be floating at the center of a nebula, but I think it’s more likely we’re to believe the skull is actually big enough to fill that glowing interstellar cloud of gas and dust, spanning many hundreds of light years. That would make this, easily, the biggest dumb skull we’ve ever encountered in art before. His massive forehead is cracked open to reveal a third eye which itself must be larger than the largest stars. If this guy is at the gate of the infraworld, you’re gonna need some serious sci-fi shit onboard your spacecraft to escape his almost unimaginable gravity. And god help you if that third eye shoots laser beams, as I presume it must! Normally, The Council frowns upon skeletons, but the ban on skeletons is primarily meant to apply to the actual big dumb skull. The two skinny guys here are effectively adornment to the title typography, and so are allowed.

The music:
Mixing Morbid Angel style DM with thrash and black elements, and with a melodic sensibility not unlike early Dark Tranquillity, The Chasm are one of the few extreme bands mixing so many sounds who also do it convincingly. There’s some absolutely crazy riffing on Procession to the Underworld, and some gonzo drumming, and it’s all performed honestly, with a rawness that charms by comparison with today’s ultra-quantized, mercilessly-edited death metal. Back in my zine days, when this album came out, I got a promo copy and I remember thinking it was way better than the logo and art would suggest, but I guess in the crush of free stuff I got back then, I never got around to buying a proper copy or keeping up with the (still-active) band, even despite seeing them live a couple times. This was probably a mistake, as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed revisiting The Chasm and am newly impressed by the passion and even originality on display here.
— Friar Johnsen