As often as you see vinyl collectors and old school metal enthusiasts sporting and flashing their latest conquests on social media or in ‘flexing’ videos online for the established and long-entrenched fandom it is like watching a child fall off of their bike for the first time. With some patience the avid fan who’d persist with their interest in the past will eventually begin to strike upon the true gold that the underground would fiercely protect, the hidden gems that no one was yet willing to sell or license or those botched production jobs that would need serious and expensive remastering. Whatever the case is for Houston, Texas area death metal band Crucifixion‘s eight year run from ace-tier demigods on ‘Desert of Shattered Hopes’ (1993) to TXDM heretics on ‘Paths Less Taken’ (1998) several years later, there was some difficulty in spreading their plague along the way. This is a two-fold injustice that is thankfully halfway remedied by this fine compilation of ‘Paths Less Taken’ and an unreleased promotional demo from 1996 entitled ‘Raising the Dead’. But before we dig into the main subject of the review it is entirely necessary to boost the signal of ‘Desert of Shattered Hopes’ as it was never given its fair due.
If you can imagine the shredding intensity of the first Brutality album synced with the brutal punchiness of Demented Ted you’d be somewhere in the ballpark of what that first Crucifixion album was doing, it was phenomenally intricate, surprisingly brutal and delivered with terrifying intensity. This still comes across today despite its relatively muffled production values which’d come from the same fellow who produced Imprecation‘s masterful ‘Ceremony of the Nine Angles’ earlier that year. I couldn’t think of an album more deserving of a remaster than ‘Desert of Shattered Hopes’, maybe Immortalis‘ (Germany) sole full-length, but the same could be said for Crucifixion‘s second full-length which was self-released under what I believe was their own imprint (Death Fiend Records) five years after the European release of Crucifixion‘s debut and three years after its release in the United States. For all of the thoughtful technicality and mystic roar of ‘Desert of Shattered Hopes’ it’d come as some sort of surprised to hear ‘Paths Less Taken’ follow a more brutal stylistic path in 1998 that wasn’t so obsessed with shredding guitar solos. Brutal as it may seem, the heart of Crucifixion still expressed on this second album as the two guitarists focused on ‘ahead of their time’ atmospheric guitar runs/scales that’d form a great juxtaposition with the hammered-out brutality of the majority of the tracks. The missing piece of the puzzle ‘Raising the Dead’ gives some provenance for how that style developed beyond the first album.
‘Desert of Shattered Hopes’ featured a pretty even split between tracks written around ’90-’91 for the ‘A Cold Sea of Horror’ (1991) demo and others written beyond that session. This made for a sort of ‘dueling spirit’ on the record that I’d described (back in 2011) as a “brilliant guitar shredding death metal…” face, and “a dull, brutal…” face. This was a virtue for the record’s longevity in my collection because it was always of two worlds and though the pieces fit together it was all the more extreme and outrageous for those differences. After their debut had been released in the states in 1995 the band would apparently soon move onto tracking ideas they’d likely been working on since 1993 and the ‘Raising the Dead’ promo demo in ’96 would form a sort of ‘missing link’ between the atmospheric-yet-technical punch of the past and the new doubly brutal future of the band in 1998. ‘Raising the Dead’ is those worlds colliding into brutal psychedelic death metal that goes into a really wild Caducity, Timeghoul and maybe even Nocturnus-esque place. Some of these ideas would be expanded upon (“Paths Less Taken”, “Weird Resurrections of the Flesh”) and others would be rescinded slightly (“Catholicos Diabolicos (Diabolic Catholics”) in favor of brutality.
‘Paths Less Taken’ recreated that somewhat even split of old and slightly newer songwriting ideas as heard on the first album but this time Crucifixion had arrived twice as brutal as even the ’96 promo had hinted. Fans of late 90’s The Chasm and early Kataklysm might fire up opener “Ejercito De Malandros (Army Of Thugs)” with it’s chunking companion “Sweating Buckets” and think the band had maybe gone too hard at this point, I mean it was 1998 and this isn’t too far off from what Exmortem was doing around that time. From that point on the album incorporates some death/doom metal influences, those psychedelic death moments, and a fair amount of additional brutality that ends up reading as very densely detailed but strongly varied ‘old school’ death. They weren’t just taking influence from the inspirationally thuggish Texas brutal death scene but also groups like Divine Eve and Death. It is a wonder I’d ever considered ‘Paths Less Taken’ as inferior to the first album as it is actually more varied, stylistically bold and performed even more brazenly. There are so few bands who could sound like early Pyrexia one song and then Ceremonium the next, or perhaps even in the same song (“Cell Block 8”). The context of the ’96 promo really helped get my gears moving in seeing how the band actually developed over time and I admire how they’d managed this album to be such quality despite what were probably some career-stunting obstacles between distribution issues and the choice to go DIY.
I’d probably been 4-5 listens into my first evening with this expanded version of ‘Paths Less Taken’ when I began to feel like “Stealing From the Dead” and “Paths Less Taken” had become a world I wanted to get lost in, that I could put each on repeat for an hour or two and feel some sort of curious and melodramatic ecstasy as I sat in meditation with each and I could probably say the same of “Last Haunted Scriptures” as well. These atmospheric trips quickly became my favorite parts of the album and they’re doubly interesting as a respite from the otherwise very brutal side of the album. It was probably also around that time I’d noticed that Crucifixion‘s logo was upside-down, which’d escaped me for the last maybe fifteen years since I’d discovered their music on the internet. There is something so redeeming about returning to an ancient and more-or-less ‘lost’ gem of death metal past and discovering it to be profound and accomplished for its time and into today. It is some great justice that ‘Paths Less Taken’ would be respectfully collected and packaged today and I can very highly recommend discovering it through this version rather than the old degraded CD rips floating around on the internet since the early 2000’s. After some considerable time spent with this compilation and in considering the great value of the ’96 promo included for provenance I am very highly recommending this version of ‘Paths Less Taken’. For preview I’d recommend starting with “Resurrections of the Flesh” and “Last Haunted Scriptures” to see both worlds colliding in great harmony and then make sure you don’t pass this release by without listening to “Stealing From the Dead” and “Paths Less Taken” back-to-back.
Relive their illustrious death. 4.25/5.0
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