Thrash ‘Til Death #17: Dead Head (Netherlands) 1989-1993

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!


Just as the province of Flevoland in the Netherlands had been merged into being the nation would appear to concurrently hit a dark streak in 1986 as extreme thrash metal upstarts began to overtake the speed/heavy metal scene. Though the bones of the Netherlands’ greater death/thrash and black metal achievements are well documented between Thanatos and Pestilence so far, it becomes important to point our microscope towards Kampen circa 1987 and witness the inspired beginnings of a death/thrash metal band that persist to this day as they enter their thirtieth year (with the original line-up) that’ll see reissues/remasters of their rare first two records and the release of their seventh full-length coming soon. Dead Head were birthed in true admiration for the rising tides of extreme metal and a love for Slayer, Possessed, Dark Angel, and Bathory that’d inform their rapacious brutal thrash metal style. Here we’ll cover several adjacent side-projects as they formed or pre-dated Dead Head as well as take the ride towards the exciting peak of their second full-length ‘Dream Deceiver’ (1993). As always I’ve done my research here but please feel free to message me or leave a comment if I’ve left out anything vital or gotten something horribly wrong!


Artist Lethargy
Title [Type/Year] Anaesthetic Sleep [Demo/1988]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

Before Dead Head would officially form on April 8, 1989 guitarist/vocalist Tom van Dijk and early Asphyx guitarist Ronnie Vanderwey would spend two years grinding away at one of the more exciting blackened thrash tapes to come from the early Netherlands extreme thrash scene. Recorded Live at Nop pop Festival in Creil, Netherlands on May 23rd, 1988 this tape is snarling death/thrash with face-slashing black metal vocals a la Morbid, Treblinka (pre-Tiamat), and Mefisto. Most people agree that Dead Head would form out of this band but, I’d say it you’d need to look at members ties to Beyond Belief and perhaps Equimanthorn at some point along the way. This demo saw CD issue in 2017 and with surprisingly clean sound quality, it sounds like a soundboard recording when compared with the quality of home demo/rehearsal tapes from the area at the time. This would be released as a split Live demo tape with Dead Head in 1989.


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Artist Dead Head / Lethargy
Title [Type/Year] Promo Tape ’89 [Demo/1989]
Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube | ‘Come to Salem’ (2000)

To be clear there are a few colliding thoughts on the first few Dead Head tapes that can be cleared up quickly. The first demo tape from 1989 ‘CD Tracks’ appear on the ‘Come to Salem’ (2000) compilation as tracks 9 and 10 if you’d like to hear them. I personally do not like compilations that aren’t chronological so I’d never bought it. Secondly this ‘Double Live Tape’ aka ‘Promo Tape ’89’ is different than the ‘Live Demo’ (1990) tape which was a reissue of these Dead Head songs with a 1990 rehearsal as Side B. Again the demo compilation doesn’t entirely clear this up but if you’re looking for near completionist groupings, grab the remaster of ‘The Feast Begins at Dawn’ (1991) that was released in January 2019 from Hammerheart and there is a fine selection of bonus demo tracks that’ll cover what ‘Come to Salem’ leaves out. Dead Head‘s side was recorded at Ukien (a venue, I assume) in Kampen, Netherlands May 27, 1989.

With all of that nonsense out of the way: This tape rips! There are shades of ‘Hell Awaits’ and early Kreator with the speed doubled up to Sadus levels and van Dijk‘s vocals are raw and rasped that sounds particularly related to the Lethargy tape from the year prior. I highly prefer this live tape to their ‘The Festering’ (1990) tape primarily because the overblown rehearsal boombox sound of that demo always bugged me. The amps peak throughout most of these performances and it does get a bit ridiculous as their solos are wobbly Slayer-isms but honestly that is what made a lot of these early death/thrashers so exciting at the time. Every song rips and I’d highly recommend both the brutal Teutonic thrasher “Pesticide” and the ‘Hell Awaits’-esque “Chosen By Faith”.


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Artist Equimanthorn
Title [Type/Year] Clouds of Death [Demo/1989]
Rating [3.25/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp!

Tom van Dijk would pull Robbie Woning away from the non-productive early years of death/doom metal band Beyond Belief first to record this Bathory worshiping tape that features a title track and a cover of “Death, Fire, Blood”. Woning would stick with Beyond Belief until 2012 but he’s never left Dead Head since their formation in 1989. This doesn’t offer a ton of insight into the direction of Dead Head afterwards but, I figured I’d include it because Bathory rules.


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Artist Dead Head
Title [Type/Year] The Festering [Demo/1990]
Rating [3.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

You could say that ‘The Festering’ is the point where Dead Head had truly integrated (then) modern death metal into their style as they left behind the simpler structures of their earlier raw ‘brutal thrash’ style. It will appear to be a subtler change until the jump in complexity reveals itself over a few listens and it wouldn’t be a fully formed transformation until the full-length would be realized. I never liked the overblown sound of this demo and it never really sold me on the band the way that their live demo did. The most recent remastered version of ‘The Feast Begins at Dawn’ restores the demo to a pristine quality and now I find I can happily listen to it… but for years I hated this tape and would just skip right to the full-length.


Artist Dead Head
Title [Type/Year] The Feast Begins at Dawn [Full-length/1991]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp! | YouTube [Original Mix]

As much as I’d like to tout ‘The Feast Begins at Dawn’ as a long-lost classic that never received the underground credit it was due, it really was just an average death/thrash record at the time and with pretty thin production for 1991. When you put it next to Invocator, Incubus, Ripping Corpse, and a handful of other bands at the time it certainly performs on par. I love the intensity and speed of this album but the variation between songs is suspect and the riffs are only occasionally inspiring (again, compared to their peers). I don’t think these guys could have been seen as ‘hangers on’ but, they’d definitely cranked up the speed too far and lost the slower parts of ‘The Festering’ that made them stand out in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad album by any means, but it won’t be a mind-melter outside of some very inspired-but-samey performances. This is one of many cases where I prefer the original mix despite constantly pointing out how weak it was for its time. Why? The remaster sounds overblown, and these songs aren’t any more effective with the bass cranked the same way it didn’t work on re-worked Insanity tracks. Think I’m a whiny bitch? Sure, but I’m really just in it for the outlier in their early discography, the follow up ‘Dream Deceiver’.


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Artist Beyond Belief
Title [Type/Year] Remind the Skull [Demo/1991]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp! [Tracks 6-13]

The first demo from death/doom metal project Beyond Belief surely has its warts in terms of the awkward pitch-shifted vocals (see: Wild Rags extreme doom around this time) but if you look beyond that quirk this was an early triumph from a band that’d been boiling in the mind of A.J. van Drenth since about 1986. ‘Remind the Skull’ is not a quick and easy experience, it is itself a 36 minute doom metal album that should remind folks of the power of Penance‘s ‘The Road Less Travelled’, the first Paradise Lost record, and Trouble‘s ‘The Skull’. Beyond Belief are such an important death/doom metal band for my own taste because they were one of the first bands within the sub-genre that I’d heard actually pull off a true doom metal riff and apply it to the extremity of death metal. If you find this ridiculous, the second demo ‘Stranded’ (1992) is hugely recommended and is included on that same compilation (with ‘normal’ death metal vocals, too!). So, why am I even talking about this band? Several members of Beyond Belief were concurrently involved in Dead Head, Robbie Woning provided guitars for every release and Ronnie Vanderwey would play bass on all but the 1997 promo demo. While I’m throwing out trivia, Woning would also provide backing vocals for a track on Phlegethon‘s ‘Fresco Lungs’ EP that same year.


 

Artist Dead Head
Title [Type/Year] Dream Deceiver [Full-length/1993]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

I’m definitely the guy who leans towards thrash riffs when a death/thrash battlement constructs but in terms of Dead Head, they’d strongly (and very briefly) benefit from a change of drummers prior to the recording of ‘Dream Deceiver’ in 1992. I’m not sure why
Hans Spijker left in 1992, he’d eventually return around 1997 and play on every recording since, but it left a spot open for the drummer from underrated Dutch death/thrashers Adetar, Marco Kleinnibbelink. The focus on ‘Dream Deceiver’ is pretty straightforward in hindsight with an emphasis on fast-paced death/thrash sections and double-bass driven mid-paced death metal. It works very well as a dynamic and offers much of what ‘The Feast Begins at Dawn’ had previous but with a much more varied approach. I won’t say that the production values had improved but this sound should appeal to folks who still idolize bands like Demolition Hammer, Exhorder, and Invocator before each band went groove metal.

There are a few songs on here that’ll perk the ears of Transmetal fans (circa ’91-’93, see: “I or the Needle”) and just about every other song is a ripper. I always appreciated the variation on rhythm and general genre-hopping they’d put into this record. It was just as savage as their prior work but just smart enough to not become boring after several listens. Hammerheart Records will be releasing a remaster w/bonus tracks this summer and I’m hoping they lower the drum presence and crank up the rhythm guitar tone much higher, the original mix is fine as is but it’d been just as mangled as the prior full-length. Where do we go from here? Well, Dead Head never put out a shitty album but most of them were pretty average groove/death records ‘Haatland’ (2005) is probably the most consistent listen but ‘Kill Division’ (1999) holds up if only for its focused and chugging approach. As I’d said they persist today in fine form and their 30th anniversary remasters and upcoming album see these die-hards soldiering on into the future. I’d normally suggest which releases I’ve covered are essential but I feel like you’d have to really try both full-lengths to decide which one suits your taste better, they -are- both above average works that should be remembered fondly but, you might wait for the remaster of ‘Dream Deceiver’ to make any final judgments!

 


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