Although doom metal had its unsung and malformed heroes in between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland in the late 70’s with Warhorse (pre-The Obsessed) and Pentagram few escape notice more often at the start of the 80’s than Asylum. Having put out ‘full-length worthy’ demos throughout the 80’s until becoming Obstination and then Unorthodox in the early 90’s, Asylum‘s demo work has now seen doubly admirable resuscitation thanks to Shadow Kingdom Records; The first came with ‘The Earth Is the Insane Asylum of the Universe‘ (1985) which was undoubtedly more progressive that one might expect whilst traversing mid-80’s doom and this would continue to be compositional mark of guitarist/vocalist Dale Flood. You’d almost have to hear bits of Trouble and The Obsessed in that first demo but also a sort of Rush influenced stomp alongside the late 70’s heavy rock riffs.
Looking back upon the bulk of Maryland and D.C. doom history it seems this all came from Asylum as originals a few years before the formation of lost (Death Mask, Reactor), obscured (Internal Void, Iron Man) and fondly remembered (Revelation) doom metal groups in the vicinity. Only Revelation seemed to take interest in the funk dipping style of the predominantly Christian-themed doom/psych rock that Asylum were playing around 1988 when this studio demo was recorded; You can certainly draw a few small parallels between ‘3-3-88’ and Revelation‘s ‘The Illusion of Progress’ from a year later. While the band’s fusion of funk-boppin’ psychedelic hard rock and doom metal would flop after they changed their name to Obstination, much of that failure to launch was made up for with a well received debut on Hellhound Records, titled ‘Asylum’ (1992), under a third new name: Unorthodox.
This limited CD run of Asylum‘s studio demo from March 3rd, 1988 captures and preserves the curious progression from a fringe prog-doom metal hybrid towards the more accessible almost alternative rock sound of early Unorthodox. If you’re somehow already well familiar with Unorthodox‘ debut and you want a direct look back at that step from demo to album (without hoping to ever find a copy of Obstination‘s stuff) this will help you draw the line more clearly from that 1985 demo towards ‘Asylum’ with some of the funk and a bit of the thrash, too. In fact the track “Unorthodox” (and perhaps “World in Trouble” will feel like some kind of alien doom/thrash metal take on what R.A.V.A.G.E. or even Watchtower would touch upon a few years previous, despite the rest of the demo resembling The Obsessed and early Revelation primarily.
As a collector’s item for fans of United States doom metal history a release of Asylum‘s studio demo couldn’t be more exciting. The music itself is perhaps only impressive in context of the bubble where it existed, though. I love the Rush influenced swagger of tracks like “Time Bomb” and “Road to Ruin” but at the same time I can see why this might’ve not translated into a bigger record deal in 1988 as alt-rock was boiling beyond the funk and little talent for melody shines through. There are some really hard riffs here and there with “Forgotten Image” probably being the most satisfying groove next to the aforementioned “Unorthodox” and that sort of wandering, groove-spilling late 80’s rock feeling is at the very least entertaining as a proof of concept. A worthy listen and a very important archive all the same.
Open hands have closed. 3.5/5.0
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