Thrash ‘Til Death #14: Thanatos (Netherlands) 1984-1993

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 band appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!


As Thanatos celebrate their 35th year of activity with a demo compilation from Memento Mori and a new signing to Listenable Records with the promise of new material soon it becomes crucial to celebrate not only their legacy but, how much of a phenomenon it is that the Rotterdam spawned death/thrashers (primarily Stephan Gebédi) have remained down to earth, heavy as hell, and respectful of thier contributions to extreme metal history. I discovered the band with the release of ‘Angelic Encounters’ (2000) and I’d become enough of a fan in the interim that I purchased the boxed set of remasters + demos from AreaDeath productions in 2007. What surprised me upon discovering the material leading up to ‘Emerging From the Netherworld’ was that they’d really take a few steps forward, and occasionally a step back in terms of sound quality and an almost unsure stylistic direction similar to Swiss thrashers Messiah in some respects. The story starts in 1984 and with something we’ve already come to expect: Slayer, Hellhammer, and soon rising tides of ‘brutal’ thrash the world over knocked a few kid’s socks off and they wanted in on the darker side of heavy metal before they were totally ready to rip.

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Artist Thanatos
Title [Type/Year] Speed Kills [Demo/1984]
Rating [3.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

Classical guitar intros, mangled Celtic Frost riffs, and holy shit did guitarists De Maaijer and Gebédi need to practice all of it! ‘Speed Kills’ couldn’t possible have impressed any local record labels with its awkward heavy rock sound and nubile Slayer-isms but man is it a fun demo to come back to and see the bare-naked roots of Thanatos‘ inception. So many bands hide their nascent works but I’ve felt like Thanatos always presented this as a positive first step in getting where they wanted to be musically. Some of these songs would be re-done in a death/thrash style on their ‘Promo Demo’ (1985) demo and it was clear they’ve put in the time to improve but taken as is I still find it impressive that such a young band would appear with such an ambitious 30 minute demo right out of the gate. Hellwitch‘s demo with a textbook as the kick drum is probably more funny as a point of inception but I think Thanatos appeared as an ambitious trio from the start. This line-up would persist for a live tape and a demo until Marcel van Arnhem would leave to join the second Dutch death metal band ever: Sepulchral Death and his brother Remo would replace him on drums from ’86 until ’92, and notably provide session drums for Sempiternal Deathreign‘s death/doom classic ‘The Spooky Gloom’!


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Artist Thanatos
Title [Type/Year] Promo Demo [Demo/1985]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

How far had Thanatos come in just one year? Well, they made it easy to compare as they’d gone back into the basement to record a new tape after they’d sold out of ‘Speed Kills’ and the result is undoubtedly the first actual example of death/thrash metal (or 80’s death metal, however you’d like to identify it) put to tape for the region. Not only is the tape sound cavernous and evil thrash as all hell but the cover with the bracers and synchronized Slayer shirts is pure gold. The sound here always reminded me of early Sacrifice a bit, maybe even Infernäl Mäjesty‘s ‘Overlord’ demo, though that came a year later, and no doubt it was the shared influences on hand for all. From here we’re actually going to skip their second demo ‘Rebirth’ simply because it isn’t available to stream and the ‘Official Live Tape 1987’ features sharper versions of those same songs. Instead we will detour to Sepulchral Death‘s demo, just for the sake of Thanatos‘ sphere of influence.


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Artist Sepulchral Death
Title [Type/Year] Praising Death [Demo/1986]
Rating [3.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

With now ex-Thanatos drummer Marcel van Arnhem completing their trio Sepulchral Death would conjure a dark and musty demo tape before they would change their name to Usurper and focus on a different style of moderately technical thrash metal. This wasn’t so far off base as Pestilence members leaving to form Sacrosanct but there is a loose parallel there as pure thrash was still an active medium in the late 80’s. The drumming here is quite brutal and features blasts that were a world apart from what van Arnhem was doing in Thanatos but the songwriting wasn’t so wildly different. This tape is a small note in Dutch death metal history but still a very worthy listen for those who must get the full picture when looking back on the past.


Artist Thanatos
Title [Type/Year] Official Live Tape 1987 [Live/1987]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp

Not only does this live tape have clear sound quality, sharp enough performances but it ultimately captures the 1986 ’til 1988 sound of the band that featured sharp bass work from André Scherpenberg, who would leave to join South Holland thrashers Vigilant. This is where Gebédi‘s songwriting really picked up steam as they’d gotten the heavy ‘brutal’ thrash sound down but it wasn’t until this series of songs that their music became a notable fixture. Riffs are near par with the soon to come ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ and perhaps even a bit more technical thanks to the addition of Second Hell guitarist Mark Staffhorst. Few death-thrashers had really hit that ‘Schizophrenia’ and ‘Pleasure to Kill’ mark of intensity and memorability by 1987 and Thanatos had demonstrably gotten there. You’ll notice I’ve skipped the ‘The Day Before Tomorrow…’ (1987) demo and again those two songs are on this live tape in clearer sound and probably a bit more intense performance. So, if you must have Demo II and Demo III (‘Rebirth’ and ‘The Day Before Tomorrow…’) I’d suggest getting the recent demo comp from Memento Mori, which also features some re-recordings of old demo-only tracks from the early days.


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Artist Thanatos
Title [Type/Year] Omnicoitor [Demo/1989]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

Here Thanatos find the exact right line-up that’d stick together for both ‘Emerging From the Netherworlds’ and ‘Realm of Ecstasy’ afterwards. ‘Omnicoitor’ comes across much like that first album would, as a collage of their favorite riffs from bands like Insanity, Sadus, Sepultura, and the raw ‘brutal’ side of underground thrash in general. If you play “Bodily Dismemberment” side by side with Insanity‘s “Morbid Lust” they’ve always been a bit close and I think that mental reference has made me a bit obsessed with this demo and the version from the full-length. Although I’d still suggest the ’87 live tape for posterity and those old songs ‘Omnicoitor’ is the one ‘essential’ demo from the band if you’re primarily interested in the style of their full-lengths.


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Artist Thanatos
Title [Type/Year] Emerging From the Netherworlds [Full-length/1990]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp!

The debut album from Thanatos builds upon the brutal thrash and (then established) death metal norms of the time for an album that is a conglomerate of many fine pieces. You’ll get the fiery rasp of Evil Chuck, the death/thrashing brutality of Pestilence, the high speed rhythm guitar work of Sepultura‘s ‘Beneath the Remains’ and an end result I’d compare to Loudblast‘s ‘Sensorial Treatment’ in that Thanatos similarly had a fully formed sound but with old pieces from demos and new pieces from the songwriting sessions leading up to its recording. It is the perfect death-thrash album for the fan and made by fans of the music as it takes influence from peers and worldwide scenes and makes it their own ripping extreme thrash salad. The one complaint I’ve always held is that Erwin de Brouwer is rarely an interesting lead guitarist often employed randomized Kerry King-esque leads or rock guitar cheapness that only occasionally adds to the intensity of both full-lengths. It isn’t a huge issue but after hundreds of listens I find myself wanting different solos throughout. Gebédi was not yet at his compositional peak but I always found ‘Emerging From the Netherworlds’ impressive for the full range of death and thrash metal influences expressed here. I believe the bandcamp link I’ve provided is the non-remastered version but I could be wrong, my CD from the AreaDeath set appears balanced differently. The Century Media remasters from 2012 are a great option, though I ultimately enjoy the vocal sound of the original.


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Artist Thanatos
Title [Type/Year] Realm of Ecstasy [Full-length/1992]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp!

‘Realm of Ecstasy’ is more or less the most ‘traditional’ death metal record Thanatos would release in terms of production sound and style though it is comparable to records like Sinister‘s ‘Cross the Styx’ and Mercyless ‘Abject Offerings’ in terms of thrash influenced riffs and a generally high fidelity production sound. Ulli Pösselt‘s methods for recording death metal had improved quickly, he also worked on ‘Emerging From the Netherworld’ as well as Massacra‘s first two albums; Though I wouldn’t say there was a Shark Records ‘sound’ at the time I would suggest that many death metal records were mishandled by German thrash/heavy metal producers in the early 90’s who perhaps understood the importance of guitar tone but couldn’t figure out how to balance the low end. The original mix of ‘Realm of Ecstasy’ was a bit of headache though remasters beyond all seem to employ a ‘more is more’ touch. If you can overlook some of that excess bass emphasis, or if you hardly notice that sort of thing, you’ll find a true gem of Dutch death metal that hardly gets its dues in hindsight. Brouwer‘s leads were more appropriate (besides that mess of “Human Combustion”) and it seemed like there was a reasonable influence from ‘Consuming Impulse’ on a few of these songs that gives the full listen a similarly classic feeling. A hugely underrated release.

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Of course a lot has transpired in the 27 years since Thanatos first split in 1992. I don’t know exactly why they split but Gebédi would revive the project in 1999 smartly nabbing Cremation (you must hear ‘Retaliation’!) guitarist Paul Baayens who would join him in Hail of Bullets as well as provide guitars for Asphyx since 2007. We’ve gotten four solid Thanatos albums since 1999, often enough that the band aren’t ruled over by nostalgia so much as their complete body of work which has remained ‘relevant’ while still approaching from an old school extreme metal perspective. This is a rare feat and few projects have found such a balance while maintaining a respectable discography throughout. As far as what is essential here I’d say ‘Omnicoitor’ and the two full-lengths are the bare minimum to get a sense of what this band became in their rise out of the 80’s but the 1987 live tape is a brilliant window into what they’d achieved as the Netherlands first extreme metal band.


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