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!
Born from a love of putrid thrash metal, the intensifying rot within Tampa, Florida and the brewing New York extreme metal underground the kids in the New Jersey area were quickly raising Hell in the mid-to-late 80’s with Ripping Corpse and Revenant ultimately ending up as historical names not so much for their classic solo full-lengths but for the list of now classic bands formed by members who’d been a part of their line-up at some point. Formed in Bergenfield, New Jersey by Henry Veggian in a move that’d coincide with his exit from the pre-Old Lady Drivers band Regurgitation. The assumption here is that Veggian was looking to lock into the brutal thrash/death metal realm that was largely still in the germinal phase before the earliest and most formative full-lengths would hit. Revenant‘s earliest line-ups would include would-be legends such as Paul Ledney (Profanatica, Havohej) and John McEntee (Incantation) some of whom would stick around until about 1990 when the band’s line-up would be more-or-less secure until their split in 1995.
Though the band’s sole full-length, ‘Prophecies of a Dying World’, is considered a dark highlight of New Jersey’s classic thrash metal output most folks today refer to it as a pre-death metal album where the involved artists went on to bigger and better things. As you’ll see with the many side-tangents and off-shoot bands some of that sentiment might be partially true at a glance but Revenant were their own entity for a good five years before everything went sideways for them. More than a vital stepping-stone for some impassioned future-leaders of death metal, Revenant‘s material still embodies the dead soul of United States death/thrash metal as death metal began to most clearly define itself to the audiences of the world. A few key pieces are missing in terms of select songs and various information but I’ve done my best to research as much as I can. Please feel free to message me or leave a comment if I’ve left out anything vital or gotten something horribly wrong!
|Title [Type/Year]||Beyond the Realms of Sorrow [Demo/1987]|
|Rating [3.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube + Fourth Song | Spotify: Tracks 11, 12, 13|
A frantic thrash metal demo that clearly had some amount of crossover thrash metal in its DNA at the time as several of the members had come from demented hardcore/thrash hybrid bands in the style of early Relapse stuff. The goal appears to be Possessed, though, and they’re just getting there in an insane and wild way. This material is perhaps the furthest cry from what Revenant would become in just a few short years, to my ears many of these songs just sound like Righteous Pigs with some ‘Seven Churches’ influenced drumming. Man people wrongly assume that John McEntee played bass in Revenant for whatever reason, on this demo he was the second guitarist.
|Title [Type/Year]||Misery [Demo/1987]|
|Rating [3.25/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp [Compilation]|
After spending very little time in Revenant a very, very young drummer named Paul Ledney would form Toten as a trio that’d eventually become Profanatica in 1989. There isn’t much need to get into the history of that band here but it is worth mentioning because Ledney would strike out with a very bold black metal sound right away and this tape’s jagged amateurish weirdness is less surprising considering how similarly awkward Revenant‘s demo was as well. I suppose the greatest point of interest is how steadfast Ledney‘s legacy would seem even when pulling back to his very earliest ideas. The ‘Macabre’ demo from 1988 is also included on the compilation I’ve linked, it is a bit straightforward compared to the thrilling ‘bestial’ style heard on the studio version of “Misery”.
|Title [Type/Year]||Asphyxiated Time [Demo/1988]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||Spotify: Songs 9 and 10|
At this point the pressure was on to become a more extreme metal band and you’ll hear some of the earliest guitar ideas that were distinctly John McEntee‘s signature. At the time this is essentially what bands like Ripped, Hellwitch, Mass Psychosis would seem to naturally evolve towards. A bit of the grindcore influence of the time along with the brutality of thrash metal that’d not yet seem to have noticed the Florida death metal uprising in full makes this an interesting demo but also a wild, ham-strung pitch of riffs into the dark. Fans of the classic death/thrash style will instantly recognize what Revenant were doing here but it doesn’t necessarily yet sound that different than a band like Protected Illusion. I haven’t personally heard this full demo so I don’t have much to say about it beyond the tracks that were included on ‘The Burning Ground’ (2005) compilation. If anything this was the step across the threshold from goofy thrash towards extreme thrash metal.
|Title [Type/Year]||The 1988 Demo [Demo/1988]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube: “Your Life Ends”|
Parasyte were a typical power/thrash metal band from New Jersey with a wailing vocalist and a heavy sound. This short tape from the quintet is a ripping good time and the sort of demo that a label like Wild Rags would have eaten up around 1986 or so (see: Bloodlust) but they’d not garner any sort of attention afterwards. The only reason I’m mentioning this tape is due to the fractured pieces of this band would make up half of the post-1989 line-up of Revenant while the other half would become Resurrection (New Jersey) and release a couple of death metal demos on their own. The only hint of that interest in extreme metal comes with the 10 second grindcore song that finishes off the power-thrasher “Your Life Ends”. We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves yet before Revenant would solidify their core Mark II line-up but I really think this song rules!
|Title [Type/Year]||Beyond the Crypt [Demo/1988]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube: “Power Force”|
Didn’t think I was serious about that whole “typical New Jersey” power/thrash thing in the late 80’s? It seems like the scene had heard what Agent Steel and post-Metal Church bands were doing but nobody could keep up. Anyhow, I won’t go too deep into this one because I don’t know shit about it beyond the fact that the drummer who briefly replaced Paul Ledney in 1986 before the band would hire Joe Fregenti played on this demo. Useless trivia? Well, not if you’re a thrash demo lovin’ scuzzbag like me I guess. Also: “This tape may cause brain damage and hearing impairments to posers.” So, you’ve been warned.
|Title [Type/Year]||Demo 1990 [Demo/1990]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Contrary to popular belief (thanks to incorrect Metal-Archives info) this cult classic demo from Revenant was recorded in 1989 -after- Veggian would replace the entire line-up. So, as much as folks like to attribute this breakthrough to John McEntee, he’d already left to form Incantation with Ledney by this time. Bassist Tim Scott (HatePlow, ex-Parasyte), drummer Will Corcoran, and Dave Jengo (ex-Parasyte) would form the core Mark II line-up for Revenant as they became a bonafide death/thrash metal band that was no longer a wobbly, messy slop-fest. It is clear that the Morbid Angel influences would become loud and intentional at this point with a sound and guitar style that was also somewhat akin to early Sadistic Intent. I love Thank You lists on demos like this because they’ve more or less named some of the finest New Jersey death and death/thrash metal bands along with some of the east coast’s finer groups, definitely write that list down if you haven’t heard all of those bands.
|Title [Type/Year]||Distant Eyes [EP/1990]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
Their demo had gotten them noticed and Thrash Records would license a 7″ with the two best songs from those demo sessions entitled ‘Distant Eyes’ in 1990. They’ve been properly mixed and remastered but they are the exact same recordings from their December 1989 sessions for the 1990 demo. Little more than a collector’s item but one I’ve always wanted quite a bit for its Rob Leecock art, whom the band had worked with almost exclusively at that point.
|Title [Type/Year]||Demo #1 [Demo/1990]|
|Rating [4.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Well, these guys had shit a mile-long pile on Revenant‘s cereal at this point and I’d say there are few death metal demos that come close to this first gasp from Incantation (no, the rehearsal doesn’t count for me, though Ledney was on it). Will Rahmer‘s (Mortician) vocals are incredible on this tape and though McEntee would eventually replace the entire band this tape remains one of their most vicious offerings. It is the archetype for literally thousands of bands, and hundreds of which I personally love. This was pure death metal with no traces of thrash metal’s corpse to pick through and really should be seen as a landmark stake in the ground for 90’s death metal.
|Title [Type/Year]||Prophecies of a Dying World [Full-length/1991]|
|Rating [4.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube | BUY 2XLP Reissue|
If you’d felt like Incantation had sorta slam dunked the rest of New Jersey with that first demo I’d say they wouldn’t fully get it right until 1992 and in the meantime Revenant would sign with Nuclear Blast and immediately get to work on their debut full-length. As with many early Nuclear Blast releases this album was co-produced by Markus Staiger who founded the label along with the lead engineer/producer Bill Klatt who had worked with thrash bands Hades and Mucky Pup prior but also cranked out Ripping Corpse‘s demo that same year. Of Lovecraft and the apocalypse this remains one of the more challenging death/thrash metal records of its time with fantastic performances throughout. The pace and execution of changes verges on the progressive thrash metal of the day and this manifests as a stimulating but dirge-like death metal album that can veer from Nocturnus to Demolition Hammer but still keep up with the technical flair of Hellwitch or Ripping Corpse. It surely feels like an in-betweener in hindsight but does serve as an exemplar piece of death and/or classic thrash metal alongside comparable records from Num Skull, Pestilence, and Morbid Angel. They clearly worked their damned asses off for this 55 minute opus and it likely didn’t catch on because they didn’t evolve towards pure death metal beyond (see: Loudblast, Massacra, Thanatos, Protector). They had a lot of support, too it’d seem. Check out this video for: “The Unearthly (A Quest)”. I would count this among some of the most underrated death/thrash records of all time and certainly one that will surprise you when you return to it, there is a masterful intricacy to it that is just rabid, ruinous and perfectly death/thrash.
|Title [Type/Year]||Exalted Being [EP/1992]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
From this point on I think it becomes difficult to marvel over Revenant‘s work beyond ‘Exalted Being’. Clearly their intentions were to move in the same direction as Ripping Corpse with increasingly technical prowess and to be sure this is some of their most thoughtful and interesting work. It just wasn’t all that much more than a refinement of what they’d done for a full hour on ‘Prophecies of a Dying World’ a year previous. I don’t think the first album sold well and doubt Nuclear Blast had any interest in working on a second release. I don’t know the details of why things came to a halt but I’d typically just look to the market at the time and see that the bigger names in death metal were stylistically just miles ahead of what Revenant had developed here, which was plainly average for its time.
|Title [Type/Year]||The Faithless [Demo/1993]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||Spotify: Tracks 1 and 2|
Here we see Veggian crafting increasingly technical guitar work, and it is truly fantastic work. His presence was still in that brutal thrash vein but the blasphemy he’d scream on this demo is heavily resonant and impassioned. This release always redeemed Revenant in my mind, not that ‘Exalted Being’ was offensive but just noisome and unfocused. This is a sharp and truly angered couple of songs that really make ‘The Burning Ground’ (2005) compilation worth buying. The drumming really kicks in towards the end of “The Faithless” and kicks my ass every time. I’d be awkward to consider this the peak or the finest hour of Revenant but it really was some of their best material.
From this point Revenant would continue but by 1995 their style had evolved towards a style that I’d describe as somewhat close to Morta Skuld‘s transition into groove metal. Nothing truly horrible but nothing that’d ever get the band noticed. A promo tape from those 1995 sessions exists somewhere on the internet but it is quite hard to find and instead anyone who is that curious will have to settle for the ‘Overman’ EP from 2002 which was most of that promo (minus a new version of “Exalted Being”, I think) that was mixed by Erik Rutan in 2001. [CLICK/TAP here to listen to ‘Overman’ EP on YouTube]. Members wouldn’t do much beyond that point in terms of bands beyond Tim Scott‘s ventures in early HatePlow, Volturyon, and more recently his own band Methane. To have shred their way from sloppy brutal thrash in the late 80’s towards a death/thrash classic in the early 90’s then devolve into a weird death/groove metal band that couldn’t get signed in the mid 90’s is both inspiring and tragic. The celebrated ex-members of the band might outshine some of Revenant‘s development but ‘Prophecies of a Dying World’ remains the respectable and powerful legacy of Revenant. I’d highly encourage folks to give ‘The Faithless’ demo and their full-length deep listens.
<strong>Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:</strong>
If you appreciate what you’ve read, please consider donating directly using PayPal.