THRASH ‘TIL DEATH is a 50 week long set of features exploring the legends who crossed over between thrash and death metal between 1983-1993. The focus is primarily on under-served, unknown, and exemplar bands/releases. The selection is comprehensive but the numbering is not indicative of any type of rank or value: The order of appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!
Formed between three brothers Partida-Bravo and a couple of close friends in 1985 as Temple de Acero, this 32+ year strong heavy metal band from Yurécuaro, Michoacán would officially change their name to Transmetal in 1987. This band represents the heart of extreme metal’s rise above mediocrity in the late 80’s as they would grow from an Inquisador style speed metal band unto many transformations of thrash, death, and groove metal later on. Transmetal sport a massive discography that is still impressive in scope even if you cross out all of the live albums, compilations and re-releases. Here I focus on their rise from classic thrash towards death/thrash and by 1993 the band would be cranking out pure old school death metal at a very high rate. I first wrote about this band back in 2013, if you’d like to read on past ’93 and get some details (poorly) translated from Spanish Wikipedia pages for their albums, [CLICK/TAP here to check it out].
|Title [Type/Year]||Velocidad, Desecho, y Metal [Demo/1987]|
|Rating [3.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
To put their difficulties into perspective you might have to have some familiarity with the southern state of Michoacán, Mexico. It could not have been easy to start a metal band back in the mid-80’s much less find ears for the dark style of amateur speed metal that Transmetal had been working on in their first two years. This ‘Velocidad, Desecho, y Metal’ demo is not only impressive for how complete it feels at nearly a full 30 minutes but it shows a great range of NWOBHM and heavy rock influences with clear nods to the Mexican heavy/speed metal scene of the early 80’s. Once officially formed and hard at work, Transmetal would not slow down for nearly a full decade. Though the performances here are rough, and the melodies far from imaginative, this demo was promising enough to spark a deal with Denver Discos thrash sub-label Avanzada Metálica. To be sure you could find better demo tapes from Mexican soil back in the day but as with many bands that transitioned between sub-genre interests in the 80’s Transmetal always appeared open to their evolution.
|Title [Type/Year]||Muerto En La Cruz [Full-length/1988]|
|Rating [3.0/5.0]||LISTEN on Spotify!|
The debut full-length from Transmetal is scratched out, chugging and primal thrash metal album that focuses very heavily on classic metal progressions while coating their speed metal sound with grimy recording. Though it was not particularly inventive for 1988 thrash worldwide, it remains impossible to compare to anything since thanks to its chugged-out riff style, campy speed metal breaks, and distinct hard-charging triplet based riffing. ‘Muerto en la Cruz’ feels more like a demo from my perspective; This mixture of formative guitar work and unrealized ambition is pushed along almost solely but the energy the band were putting out and I doubt even the most die-hard thrasher will stick with this record for long.
|Title [Type/Year]||Desear un Funeral [EP/1989]|
|Rating [3.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
In bridging the gap between full-lengths ‘Desear un Funeral’ was a short EP that would showcase a true dual guitar approach to rhythm guitar work but the performances were not yet anywhere near professional. This EP typically accompanies the forthcoming ‘Sepelio en el Mar’ which would be released a year later and generally prove itself far more listenable. I would describe their cover of Killers (France) self-titled song as disappointing and sloppy, the band would redeem this with a covers album years later.
|Title [Type/Year]||Sepelio en el Mar [Full-length/1990]|
|Rating [3.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Transmetal would not begin to mature musically until they’d worked out their obsession with pure, raw speed on their first full-length. Brutality and atmosphere enter into the picture in 1990 as this sloppy death/thrash record gives the impression of a mediocre thrash metal band doing their best to imitate their death metal heroes of the day. It is a raw and subdued production sound that the internet loves to attribute to Eric Grief but he would work on the English version (‘Burial at Sea’) which would release in 1992. The actual producer was once again Victor Baldovinos. If you are, for whatever reason, deeply in need of a raw mixture of Pestilence and Dark Angel imbued with Transmetal‘s own odd sense of rhythm then this is exactly that. If you are a big fan of very early Sepultura a few songs (see: “Profanador”) will definitely be worth checking out. It is not an amazing second record from the band but it would be the first hit of extreme metal to truly drive their sound forward.
|Title [Type/Year]||Zona Muerta [Full-length/1991]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on Spotify!|
The exit of guitarist/vocalist Alberto Pimentel to form his own band Leprosy was understandable; He’d likely been the ‘odd man out’ as the rest of the band were family, and while I think his other band was more or less the same thing, but even less rhythmically successful, it makes sense that he tried his own thing. The need to replace Pimentel meant hiring a live guitarist (Juan Carlos Camarena) and a vocalist Alejandro González who would later go on to join other members of Transmetal in forming Ultratumba in 1995. González‘ tone was not straight thrash at all and he was capable of a keeping up with the meter of the music far more capably than Pimentel, this combined with influences from Obituary and Sepultura made for what I’d consider Transmetal‘s first bonafide death/thrash metal album and perhaps one of their best death metal releases overall. With the guitars written and performed entirely by Juan Partida a very pronounced sense of growth becomes quickly apparent.
Not only was Partida far more capable than expected but the loss of Pimentel‘s scratchy playing gives ‘Zona Muerta’ a true old school death metal feeling, perhaps their first successful rhythmic guitar writing, that should appeal to folks who love old Florida death metal demo tapes and the legacy of Sepultura (up to and including ‘Arise’). You might fire up this album and suppose that the guitar tone feels slightly thin but this comes from a fairly ‘scooped’ mix from Eric Grief who only seemed to work with bands that were destined to fuck up, give up, or fail (Morbid Saint, Viogression, Accidental Suicide). If you don’t understand my excitement for this album, consider folks who love ‘Breeding the Spawn’ despite its horrendously damning production, and apply that to myself. ‘Zona Muerta’ was filthy, skin-stripping toxic waste in an era of over polished thrashers and I still love it.
|Title [Type/Year]||Amanecer en el Mausoleo [Re-recording/1992]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
After moving on from their original rhythm guitarist’s exit, Transmetal would reacquaint the world with their old material by celebrating their fifth anniversary as a band. This came with the momentum of touring with big name bands of the time like Sepultura, Napalm Death, and Sacred Reich. Of course, they would re-record about half of these songs before Pimental rejoined the band; This would mean that half of the songs feature González while the other half feature Pimental. The band could actually play their instruments in time at this point and this means those old thrash tracks are given new life and occasionally death metal vocals. This is perhaps the best place to start if you have trouble with the bands pre-‘Zona Muerta’ releases.
|Title [Type/Year]||Burial at Sea [Full-length/1992]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
As they retreaded their old material it must have dawned upon Transmetal that their ‘best’ material on ‘Sepelio en el Mar’ was worthy of worldwide release and the result was this re-working of ‘Sepelio en el Mar’ with English lyrics and a cleaned up mix. I always felt like this was a full re-recording based on the huge shift in sound quality compared to the 1990 album. The weird aspect of the band following up the well received ‘Zona Muerta’ with ‘Burial at Sea’ is that its style is clearly a predecessor with nods to Coroner, Pestilence, and Possessed; That is to say it is more of a thrash album in general. This is not my favorite record from the band because I think Pimental is not an impressive vocalist and his pronunciation seems to ad-lib words quite often but, if you treat this as the pre-cursor to ‘Zona Muerta’ it begins to make great sense and I am glad this cleaner, sharper version of a great record was produced.
|Title [Type/Year]||Crónicas de Dolor [Full-length/1993]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
If you showed up to this page to find a true hidden gem of old school death metal then I present what is perhaps my personal favorite album from Mexico in the early 90’s, trust that there was great competition for that spot. This true follow-up to ‘Zona Muerta’ finds Transmetal leaning further into their Florida death metal bag of tricks and continuing to find their own unique sense of rhythm. ‘Crónicas de Dolor’ [Chronicles of Pain] toys with death/doom metal ideas, swinging rock rhythms, and this should sate the tastes of folks who love early Autopsy, Death, Obituary and the mutants spawned by them. The album includes a cover of Mexican Led Zeppelin/Scorpions-alikes Enigma with the song ‘The Call of the Woman’. It is a bit strange, maybe even moreso if you already know the song, but I like how it breaks up the expectations of the record. Perhaps this wasn’t the bands most proud or serious moment but I really appreciate that the band had a unique style and unmistakable sound at this point.
Dark Angel founding member and famed riff-crafter Eric Meyer would try his hand at production beyond his engineering help on ‘Darkness Descends’ in 1986 and after helping crossover thrashers Recipients of Death and Bloodlust with their debuts he’d produce records from Blackthorn (Mexico) and this fifth Transmetal album a few years later; I’ve gone out of my way to find a less muddy rip of this album because it was truly under par for 1993. While it will appear loud enough, you will not find a reasonable representation of the CD’s sound online (including Spotify). To be fair to Meyer, he was working with small bands with likely equally small budgets. The YouTube link I’ve provided sounds great, and if you have the time to spin the whole thing I think the second half of the album will really be a surprise if you’re only familiar with Transmetal‘s early works.
|Title [Type/Year]||El Infierno de Dante [Full-length/1993]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on Spotify!|
Here is where I diverge further from the norm in my thoughts on Transmetal as I do not enjoy the Spanish or English versions of ‘El Infierno de Dante’ / ‘Dante’s Inferno’. Beyond my issues with its bland groove/death metal guitar style, I’ve never liked Pimental‘s use of triplet ‘jogging’, it is a serviceable pure death metal record that most folks know the band for. The attempt to make a Florida style death metal album with Scott Burns (Morrisound Studios) saw the band struggling with complex rhythm guitar work and upping the pace ambitiously. ‘Dante’s Inferno’ seems to struggle through each song and resembles the off-kilter post-’93 releases from Master with an odd use of what I call “Children of the Grave” riffs. Glen Benton offers a few growls on the opener and to be sure it sounds like they wanted to make the next ‘Legion’ but ended up with a sub-‘Stillborn’ level of quality. It was a disappointing album for my own tastes but ‘El Infierno de Dante’ put Transmetal on the map more than any previous release and perhaps served as a reset for the band after ‘Crónicas de Dolor’ (a superior album which the band does not acknowledge to this day). It isn’t as rough as I make it sound and most death metal fans will enjoy it on a basal level.
By 1994 Transmetal could be accused of having found and lost themselves between 1991 and 1993 with their treatment of death/thrash offering a great highlight to the Mexican death metal ecosystem and their aspirational Florida style death metal foray proving unnatural and forgettable. The band would acknowledge the expense of studio time by more or less recording two albums worth of tracks on future sessions. Two groove/death metal albums in 1996 would find the band working with Burns again and by 1997 Pimental would leave yet again not to return until 2007. The direction of the band took many interesting turns as their partnership with the Torres brothers, both from thrashers Panic, took their sound away from groove metal towards black/death metal comparable to The Chasm for several releases. I highly recommend exploring this bands incredible discography of 19+ full-lengths and though the early stuff might feel like an amateurish slog at first, there is great value in exploring Transmetal‘s evolution from a hard rock loving speed metal band to one of Mexico’s most recognizable and dedicated death/thrashers.
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