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!
Although we’ve covered some influential and popular artists within this feature thus far I’d say few offer such an archetype for lasting success as that of Olsztyn, Poland born Vader. Their reach, greater extreme metal influence, and consistent mainstream presence all stem from an approach that stays true to the extreme thrash ethos they developed from 1983 until 1986. What started as a heavy/speed metal band would evolve towards heavier, demonic extreme thrash before it’d become a separate entity beyond what we’d call classic thrash today. As with most any band in the 80’s Polish metal scene that is still remembered today, Vader had their break starting with the first Metalmania Festival in 1986. From there the direction of the band would appear to become more serious and that meant guitarist Zbigniew Wróblewski (Raxas) was fired for creative differences that same year. The line-up would shift drastically in the next few years and by 1988 the band (well, Piotr Wiwczarek it seems) would have collectively decided upon a brutal thrash sound that’d become a distinct and ripping death/thrash metal style after vocalist Robert Czarneta and drummer Belial were replaced. The keystone for early Vader was Wiwczarek‘s recruitment of Slashing Death drummer Krzysztof “Doc” Raczkowski who could manage the level of extremity that Wiwczarek had in mind.
Today, or at least much of the last 25+ years Vader has been a ‘household’ death/thrash metal name that would update their sound and inspire not only the Polish extreme metal environment but soon reach across Europe, North America and the rest of the world. The peak of that mainstream visibility probably came between ‘Litany’ (2000) and ‘Revelations’ (2002) but they’ve held on since despite a few key line-up changes and a lack of further growth beyond 2004. I’m not here to write about Vader growing fat upon the death/thrash throne, though, this will focus entirely on their uprising from the Polish underground to their appearance upon the world stage just as death metal broke into worldwide recognition. If I’ve gotten any facts or timeline issues wrong, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. NOTE: ‘Tyrani Piekieł’ aka ‘Tyrants of Hell’ was a live track and interview in Polish released unofficially in 1986. Unless you speak Polish it is redundant to include as two versions of the song itself are available on the 2015 issues of ‘Live in Decay’ which will be linked below and it was re-recorded for ‘XXV’ (2008).
|Title [Type/Year]||Live in Decay [Demo/1988]|
|Rating [2.5/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp! | LISTEN on YouTube|
‘Live in Decay’ was a live performance recorded by Krzysztof “Kisiu” Wojtkowski at the Sala im. Gotowca – Kortowo (studio name, I’m assuming) in Olsztyn, Poland on December 12th of 1986. This material found Vader in transition as Robert “Czarny” Czarneta was the bands third vocalist at that point and though his black metal rasp is nicely fitting here the sound quality makes it difficult to discern most of what this blustering, rocker-thrash performance was trying to do. Czarny would join guitarist Zbigniew Wróblewski, who was fired prior to this recording, soon after in soft rockin’ thrash band Raxas. If you’re wondering why I didn’t include the 1989 demo for Raxas here on this retrospective as I usually would [Click/Tap HERE to figure for yourself]. So, why did Vader release this tape a couple of years after? It was not officially released. I would say it was valuable not as a salable item with any hope of a record deal but, instead meant to drum up interest from like-minded musicians. Drum up it did and thankfully reached the equally desolate extreme metal scene of Lidzbark Warmiński (north of Olsztyn) and musician Doc aka Docent of crossover/grinders Slashing Death was soon recruited.
|Title [Type/Year]||Irrevocably & With No Hope [Demo/1989]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Here’s a detour worth taking as Doc‘s drumming on the second, third and fourth Slashing Death demos is just incredible. I chose this third demo because Doc had the most presence having written and performed guitars on the first song “Apocallyptic” as well as providing a truly slapping performance on drums throughout the whole thing. If you love early Relapse Records grind and the weird fuckin’ crossover/grind hyrbids that came after Napalm Death put out ‘Scum’ this is a brilliant throat puncher of a demo. I always loved this tape for the style, drumming, and just the simple-but-effective take on what I’d call deathgrind today. I don’t think anything else by this band is as good as this, so I won’t go on about it much more. Just if you see me reviewing old school grind keep in mind I love this type of that shit best.
|Title [Type/Year]||Necrolust [Demo/1989]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp!|
Here it is, the “leap” forward into public existence and the Vader we know today materializing into the hands and minds of metal tape traders and zine freaks across Europe. This was clearly some hard work for Wiwczarek and Doc but their pairing was incredibly natural as they riffed upon their shared interests in German thrash, Morbid Angel, Terrorizer, and Slayer. You could hear some ‘Hell Awaits’ in ‘Live in Decay’ but nothing compared to the ‘South of Heaven’ (see: “The Final Massacre”) Wiwczarek brought on ‘Necrolust’. This tightly wound and ripping death/thrash sound elevated Vader within the extreme metal scene from Greece and Spain all the way up to Scandinavia eventually reaching Carnage Records’ Mariusz Kmiołek. Europe knew who Vader was but I don’t think many people with ‘Necrolust’ in their hands seriously thought the band would explode. I love this demo not only for the tightly wound guitar and drum interplay but for the tone of the guitars. Wiwczarek‘s vocals are shitty even by thrash metal standards for ’89 but his rhythm guitar sound and writing were incredible. The mechanical quality of this sound and precision performances absolutely influenced Polish death metal going forward and put to rest a lot of the sloppiness you’d find by comparison in the formative death/thrash scene of Krakow. It is a teaser and a self-actualization for the band but, I’d hold up on praising this too much before hearing the next tape from Vader a year later.
|Title [Type/Year]||In Pain We Trust [Demo/1990]|
|Rating [3.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube [Playlist]|
Impurity was a short lived death metal band from Kętrzyn, Poland that’d begin as Damnation and become Impurity from 1989-1994. Who gives a shit? Well, death metal demo tape heads need to know about this one because it rips first of all. It fits in here just as a side-note to give perspective on what Wiwczarek had been doing between demos and that’d include session work here where he provides guitars on the third track (“Last Sufferings”) as well as bass guitar throughout. I’ve included this primarily to give perspective for folks who believe that Vader sort of introduced death metal to Poland and this is absolutely not the case as the extreme metal visibility might have been ultra-guerrilla underground before 1990 there were still many bands experimenting with extreme thrash just as far back as Vader‘s beginnings. I believe Wiwczarek must’ve been friends with guitarist Daniel “Edek” Ejmont as he’d also provide some guitar work for his later death metal project demo Kingdom of the Lie in 1993 [Click/Tap HERE to hear “Blasphererion” from Kingdom of the Lie].
|Title [Type/Year]||Split [Full-length/1990]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
Here’s an absolute beast of a compilation tape from Telex Records. Who? Well, this was their first and only release and this split was put out with the intention of raising a torch towards the ripping death/thrash across Poland at the time. Vader includes the first two tracks from the ‘Morbid Reich’ demo which likely came after this tape considering these tracks do not appear mastered yet. Unborn is of note because these tracks come from their ‘Unbirthday’ demo tape that would also come later in 1990 and this would be the only release to feature Doc as the drummer, the music sucks though. Armagedon would become underground death metal legends and Violent Dirge would become an incredibly overlooked tech/progressive band that’d take after early Cynic on their albums. If you love Atheist you need to hear Violent Dirge ‘Craving’ (1995).
|Title [Type/Year]||Morbid Reich [Full-length/1990]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp! | LISTEN on YouTube|
Thrash ‘Em All zine editor Mariusz Kmiołek kicked off the first original release from his cassette only Carnage Records imprint with a banger of a demo in the form of the iron curtain busting ‘Morbid Reich’ demo tape. Vader still hadn’t found their exact vocal sound but they had fully formed into what you’d hear on their debut full-length a few years later, all of these songs would be included in some form on ‘The Ultimate Incantation’. ‘Morbid Reich’ has such a reputation for the claim that it sold 10,000 copies of its original run; While I don’t think it is impossible for a Polish death/thrash band to have sold 10k copies of a professionally recorded and released demo tape with a glossy cover and pretty slick production (from Kmiołek and a handful of Pro-Studio engineers) I’d always wondered about that claim as I’ve only ever seen the original issue of the tape and (some very modern) bootlegs of it and that original is quite rare. Did they do several reissues under the radar? Because if Baron Records and a few other pirate labels had been bootlegging it in 1991 and 1994 it meant it was probably hard to find a real copy for a decent price in Poland. I only say this as someone who has chased down other Carnage releases as well as various Polish death metal demo tapes and typically a run of more than 500 (maybe 1000 at most) was rare to start with. Either way, this demo blew up across Europe and reached Earache Records, who’d luckily had their fingers in the extreme metal pie early enough to make some serious cash off their UK exports.
|Title [Type/Year]||The Ultimate Incantation [Full-length/1992]|
|Rating [4.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube! | Re-Recording: ‘Dark Age’ (2017)|
Vader‘s debut was absolutely mishandled by everyone touching it and when you dig around for information on what exactly happened it seems everyone had pointed fingers in different directions over the years. The first misstep was signing to Earache Records at all, but that is a matter of opinion based off of how every (now classic) death metal band that’d signed to them got a raw and shitty deal in the long run. The second misstep was heading to Sunlight Studios with a death/thrash record in 1991 and somehow not having any available drums for the album. Apparently they’d created a quickly scrapped version of ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ with Thomas Skogsberg that featured a drum machine (well, Doc on pads) instead of live drums. Though they are credited guitarist Jarosław “China” Łabieniec (Dies Irae, Impurity) and bassist Jacek “Jackie” Kalisz (Slashing Death) did not perform on this album as it was entirely Doc and Wiwczarek. [Click/Tap HERE to listen to 3 tracks from the Sunlight Studios sessions for ‘The Ultmate Incantation].
They would then move the production to Rhythm Studios (Cathedral, Benediction, Warlord, Gomorrah, Impaler) in England and essentially turn all of the knobs to what I’d consider Cadaver‘s ‘In Pain…’ settings. While I do understand that Sunlight may not have been the place for the recording, I do think that producer Paul Johnson really dropped the ball with his treatment of the bass drums on ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ and he’d really flopped with records from promising bands like Decomposed, Impaler, etc. prior and beyond. Doc‘s signature ‘brutal’ drum sound would come from that overblown double bass drum recording and it’d become ridiculous by the time ‘Litany’ arrived. Don’t think I’m actually talking down to ‘The Ultimate Incantation’, I mean ‘Hell Awaits’ has huge production issues but it remains one of my favorite albums of all time along with this debut from Vader.
Like so many other folks Earache Records and Roadrunner Records would be my introduction to truly defined extreme metal in the early 90’s and that’d include ‘Left Hand Path’, ‘Altars of Madness’, ‘Beneath the Remains’, ‘Dawn of Possession’, and soon after ‘The Ultimate Incantation’. Note that they remastered all of these because they were similarly mishandled and then well, honestly poorly remastered too… I’d probably heard Terrorizer first and then vaulted onto Vader from there because of the intense drumming. What set this band apart? Man, the sound might be in line with British death metal of the era but the style was basically ‘death metal Slayer‘ before I realized any of that connection made sense. None of the history involved with these releases mattered at the time, what really clicked with me when I heard this album was that stylistic variations within extreme metal existed far beyond my own periphery and that if I kept looking for that ideal sound I’d eventually find a band exactly to my own tastes. I’d still say that ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ is a record that fits exactly with my own ideals of death/thrash metal and Vader‘s whole sound developed in some insane ways over the next decade or two beyond.
‘Sothis’ (1995) is probably the Vader album that’d feature their fully formed personality but ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ remains a brilliant example of where death/thrash could take a band in the late 80’s towards the early 90’s as death metal exploded. They’ve released ten albums since and in 2017 they fully re-recorded ‘The Ultimate Incantation’ for its 25th anniversary due to not being able to solidify a license from Earache. They’d initially announced a reissue w/Sunlight Studios version attached as a double LP on Witching Hour Productions but when that fell through we got a really sharp and updated version of their first album entitled ‘Dark Ages’. They’re still active beyond and we’re getting an EP here soon in 2019 and a full-length in early 2020 as far as I’ve seen.
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