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!
Forming right on the cutting edge of extreme metals rise into form in Europe the contributions to extreme thrash and death metal from Baar, Switzerland ‘hardcore thrashers’ Messiah surely came a couple of years after their Nürensdorf contemporaries Hellhammer (and the then slightly less impressive Poison) but they were an original trio from the start, showing far more serious talent years before Death would put comparably catchy raw thrash to tape. You cannot have a conversation about death metal without at least giving some due credit to these underground legends. The first ten years of their legacy would see five full-lengths, a disbanding and reformation just in time to release one of the finest death/thrash records ever recorded. I hesitated to include their ‘Underground’ era in this write-up as it was not a high point for their legacy but overall it will hopefully illustrate the tumult of the times and the struggle to keep a good thing going as the mid-90’s record label landscape provided difficulty for thrashers and death metal acts alike in the face of grunge and alt-rocks rising curse.
|Title [Type/Year]||Powerthrash [Demo/1985]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
The original Mark I line-up of Messiah would form in Baar in 1984 and fully dissolve around 1989. The trio formed with a shared love for all things hardcore, thrash, and with a hint of doom along the way. You’ll no doubt pick up on the Slayer, Venom, and Black Sabbath influences that’d also inform Hellhammer here on ‘Powerthrash’ and this was a band you knew weren’t just another boring ass Metallica clone looking to make a quick buck making poser thrash. This was dark, blasphemic music with a not completely serious attitude and very little sounds like it past or present beyond the echoing vocals, bursts of ripping thrash (“Antichrist”), and slow doomed sections (see: “Space Invaders”, “Total Maniac”). They appeared to be of the same breed as those early years of Thanatos and in fact vocalist/bassist Tschösi (Babylon Sad, ex-Fear of God) would guest on Thanatos‘ live tape in 1987. It would be fair to call Messiah extreme thrash or proto-death metal even on their earliest recordings but the heart of the music is still very much thrash for lack of any other era specific label.
|Title [Type/Year]||The Infernal Thrashing [Demo/1985]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
Here Messiah achieves their own mid-point between the precision high-speed guitar work of Possessed and the brutal sledge of ‘Bestial Devastation’ era Sepultura. That isn’t to say that ‘The Infernal Thrashing’ is anything but an evolution of what they’d done on the first demo, and I’ve no idea they’d heard either band (‘Seven Churches’ is surely evoked, but ‘Show No Mercy’ is too) but this is Messiah‘s own messy and psychedelic bout of raw extreme metal insanity that landed before it was even remotely popular a thing to do. I’m well aware that other extreme hardcore-sped heavy metal existed prior to 1985 but I’ll be damned if there were but a few arriving at such an ugly, dark conclusion at the time. I’d say that both ’85 demos are important provenance for the historic ‘Hymns to Abramelin’ but non-essential unless you are interested in bestial and raw forms of thrash.
|Title [Type/Year]||Hymn to Abramelin [Full-length/1986]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube | LISTEN on Spotify!|
This is perhaps the ‘proof’ of Messiah‘s importance in the realm of death metal beyond Possessed and they’d no doubt released one of the very first death metal full-lengths of the 80’s with ‘Hymn to Abramelin’, just three months before Sepultura would release ‘Morbid Visions’. Deep growls, blasts, and doomed passages all highlight this raw and violent record that more or less collected the best moments from the bands first two demos and put them to a tape that was just barely 30 minutes long. Just as I found pre-‘Schizophrenia’ unlistenable back in the day so did I find ‘Hymn to Abramelin’ a mess of an album at the time, today I appreciate it as a fine 80’s death metal record that more or less embodied everything heavy about the early days of extreme metal. Celtic Frost‘s lumbering doom riffs, Sepultura‘s raw fury, and Possessed‘s flippant blasphemy all set atop a set of memorable brutal thrash riffs. There isn’t a bad song on here though much of this will feel sloppy when considering its German cousin, Kreator‘s ‘Pleasure to Kill’, which is probably more worthwhile a glimpse into the extremity in fashion circa 1986.
|Title [Type/Year]||Extreme Cold Weather [Full-length/1987]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube! | LISTEN on Spotify!|
It was probably ‘Extreme Cold Weather’ where Remo “Brögi” Broggi‘s weird side shone most at the end of Messiah‘s Mark I line-up with a buzzing guitar tone, self-produced sound and non-serious ‘crossover hardcore’ attitude atop brutal death/thrash. It was a complete change from what the band had produced since 1987 and well, there was only about 27 minutes of it, so they just put a couple tracks from ‘Hymn to Abramelin’ and several live tracks on Side B. If it sounds like I’m not as excited about this record you’re only right in terms of the weird extras and jokey filler they’ve included, Side A is an incredible pre-cursor to what’d come next and the ripping Teutonic thrash influence here was comparable to what Tormentor were doing at the time. Everything about this release is unique from the loaded guitar tone to the atmospheric interludes and ‘not sure if they’re serious’ anti-Catholic themes. The immediacy felt in the guitar work here really builds in value as the record progresses, similar to a group like Agressor (France) where that Slayer speed actually works in favor of increasingly complex guitar work. I have always considered ‘Extreme Cold Weather’ as an EP personally and although I appreciate the complete DIY nature of its creation and the unique treatment of guitar tone this definitely felt like a half-assed ‘Terminal Spirit Disease’ sort of affair where the small burst of greatness is balanced out by filler and half-hearted work.
I’ve no idea why Messiah split around 1988 (some sources say 1989) but it appears that drummer Rolf Heer (“Jazzi”) had joined Poltergeist and he’d perform on their first album ‘Depression’; Bassist/vocalist Tschösi would go on to perform on Babylon Sad‘s underrated avant-death/doom classic ‘Kyrie’ along with guitarist Dani Raess who would join Messiah for their 1990 promo demo as well as the live demo ‘Live in Germany – The Mighty Chaos Has Returned’. Broggi was back again by 1990 with Messiah now a quartet playing a somewhat technical form of death/thrash metal. It was obviously a transitional period for the project but also quickly gave birth to some of the best death/thrash ever created.
|Title [Type/Year]||Psychomorphia [Demo/1990]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
Two demos named ‘Psychomorphia’ were created in 1990 and the second one was recorded twice so, tapes for all three exist in some form across compilations and bootlegs to this day. There is also an EP under this title but I’ll sort all of that out as we get there. This first version finds the general ideas leading up to the ‘Psychomorphia’ EP coming together, it is clear that death metal like Pestilence, Thanatos, Massacra and the heavy thrash of Sepultura had some reasonable influence upon Broggi‘s guitar compositions but he still wrote with a sort of avant-garde approach to keep things interesting. This is obviously a less polished more ‘death metal’ version of what would end up on the EP but no doubt this promotional demo was reason enough to get Messiah a professional deal as they came back from the dead. High Roller Records released a compilation in 2018 that contains this demo plus the live demo entitled ‘The Mighty Chaos Has Returned (The Roots of Psychomorphia)’ and it is absolutely worth getting if you’re a Messiah fanatic as I am.
|Title [Type/Year]||Psychomorphia [EP/1991]|
|Rating [4.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube! | LISTEN on Spotify!|
It doesn’t matter if you’re listening to the Promo demo, the 1990 demo, the actual 1991 EP or the live versions of these songs you’ll immediately notice that Messiah had gone from obscure formative extreme metal hellions to world class death/thrashers in their reformation. ‘Psychomorphia’ does have three versions, though, and I can’t help but fixate on the differences between each one. The promo demo from 1990 was first and contains a different tracklist with some songs that’d appear on ‘Choir of Horrors’ as well. The demo for ‘Psychomorphia’ (which was technically recorded twice) is more or less note-for-note the same as the actual ‘Psychomorphia’, a wild 19 minute EP that would serve as an intense spectacle of death/thrash beyond what’d been released previous. Yes, in some sense their peers in the aforementioned Thanatos, Pestilence, Massacra, and Sepultura all had a leg up with a fair head start but none of them sounded anything like ‘Psychomorphia’. The title track is a nearly 9 minute opus, a sign of the conceptual works to follow and the atmospheric compositions of ‘Extreme Cold Weather’ are entirely here just in refined form. You could tell this ‘comeback’ meant a lot to the band and they really polished these songs leading up to ‘Choir of Horrors’. The YouTube link I’ve provided is for the Massacre Records version which is a compilation including each version plus the live demo with the caveat that one track is left off of the ‘Psychomorphia’ promo demo, I would generally recommend the High Roller Records compilation from 2018 if you already own the regular version of the EP.
|Title [Type/Year]||Choir of Horrors [Full-length/1991]|
|Rating [5.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
The production sound on ‘Choir of Horrors’ is absolute perfection for the death/thrash sub-genre and this comes thanks to the pairing of producers Sven Conquest and Noise Records and Hellhound Records founder Karl-Ulrich Walterbach who had worked together in engineering early classics (and careers) for Kreator, Coroner, and Rage among others (see: Lemming Project). Given this impossibly heavy overdriven guitar sound, the sort of tone that appears to melt the very guitar it comes from, and the absolutely inspired violence of Broggi‘s writing this may very well be my favorite ‘sound’ and ‘style’ of any death or thrash metal related release. I only hesitate to call this my favorite metal record of all time because the slot is impossible to ever place permanently though I have endless enthusiasm for this album. When I talk about great riffs, memorable songs, and complete musical statements I am talking about this ultimate product of 80’s death metal innovation that had arrived just as death metal fully exploded throughout Europe. Anyhow, I have written several reviews for this record on several sites over the years so I won’t continue with any further redundant thoughts. Absolute perfection. If you’re looking for a version to get I’d say the Massacre remaster from 2010 is a nice revision with some interesting demo tracks included but the original has a really vibrant and organic sound to begin with that the remaster is kind of bassy and dull for my taste. The band reformed (with this same line-up) in 2018, also and they will re-release much of their back catalog in 2019 so I’d hold out for that version in the meantime.
|Title [Type/Year]||Rotten Perish [Full-length/1992]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YT [Remaster] | LISTEN on YT [Original]|
Now a full-on death metal band in the third year of their reformation the line-up wouldn’t change but Broggi‘s ambitions would reflect his taste in classic heavy metal more than the standard death metal fare of the early 90’s. The result is the concept album ‘Rotten Perish’, a fictional set of parables examining the “malicious influence produced by [the] Christian church”. Instead of letting the concept speak for itself, all of which is remarkably clear when reading the lyrics, they’ve opted to have a child explain the concept referred to as the opening track… As the kid details the meaning of each song I always scramble for the skip button. It is the worst possible introduction to an otherwise remarkable death metal record that many overlook for its general weirdness. Messiah were still using that blood-thirsty guitar tone but because their style had been influenced by the Florida death metal of the time they outsourced the mix to… Morrisound Studios and ‘Rotten Perish’ was marred by this. The (again) bass intensive remaster from Massacre Records cranks the blunted guitar tone to the point of noisome oddity. It is still a solid mid-paced death metal record with a fair stab of thrash metal influences but it came out a bit odd sounding, much like the ‘off’ sound of Mortification around that same time. The Pestilence influence is very clear at this point too, perhaps a bit too ambitious for what the compositions had built up to but not nearly as interesting in terms of technical prowess. This record is the very definition of a weirdly flawed classic that makes a bad first impression but holds up well enough over time. I can on thousand percent, forever recommend the original version of the CD/Tape over the remaster! I really hope they do not re-release the horrible Massacre remaster in 2019.
|Title [Type/Year]||Underground [Full-length/1994]|
|Rating [2.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
What does ‘Underground’ sound like? It sounds like Messiah had run into debt after two failed (admittedly non-commercial and fantastic) attempts at death metal and the gamble with ‘Underground’ was to create a final contractual record for Noise Records in hope of making up for the debt incurred. Unfortunately both bassist Frugi and phenomenal vocalist Andy Kaina were out at this point so Christofer Johnsson (ex-Carbonized, Therion) filled the vocal spot. Well, this was Johnsson in 1994 not 1991 and that means his vocals here are some kind of weird non-aggressive post-thrash performance that sounds a bit like the fellow from Stone (Finland). So, the problem here isn’t the riffs or the music itself… Yes, it does reek of those terrible later era Massacra (see: ‘Sick’) groove metal albums but none of this offends as much as Johnsson‘s very dorky vocals. Elements of industrial metal also seep in and it becomes clear that Messiah were lost and checked out of their original goals at this point. “The Ballad of Jesus” is perhaps the worst song ever recorded by the band and ends up being the true nail in the coffin for my tastes. If your tastes differ form mine and you want a copy, in this case Massacre Records‘ version is just fine this time around.
Messiah would reform for some 20th Anniversary shows and some compilation releases around 2004 but they’d form more seriously, with the ‘Choir of Horrors’ line-up in 2018. They’ve announced their work on a sixth studio album this January along with proper reissues of their discography, likely not including the first two records. These fellows have all of the potential to resurrect their legacy and forge new music with dignity (see: Protector) and I couldn’t be more curious as to what they’ll end up doing. Either way the history of Messiah is a huge point of inspiration for me personally and I can emphatically recommend digging through their humble but hugely resonant contributions to the history of extreme metal within their first decade of existence. The must-listen stuff for folks just browsing through would definitely be ‘Hymn to Abramelin’ for the historical value and ‘Choir of Horrors’ for an absolute death/thrash classic.
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