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!
For all of the time I’ve spent listening to the earliest Terminal Death, Death Strike, Abomination, Devastation, Demented Ted and Natas (more about that later…) demos I have to admit the dark-black skies of Chicago’s formative death metal/extreme thrash scene long eluded me in terms of Funeral Nation‘s discography. Why? There was most definitely a point in time between 1995 and 2010 where their releases had become known to a wider file-sharing population of classic death and thrash metal fandom and most any chance to get your hands on their album or demo would involve either a shitty bootleg, an unauthorized compilation, and at the time (lets say 2004ish) I would quickly move on from the difficult to find items for the sake of keeping a wishlist handy in the future. It wouldn’t be until the band had reformed and taken full control over their history and legacy that clean documentation of their existence was readily available. Today we live in a gilded age for this kind of research because once in a while I am handed a gift in the form of a full and well-curated Bandcamp page full of every Funeral Nation release, official or otherwise. I care even more about a band when they’ve taken the time to show that they care about their legacy and in this case that legacy is a vital independent presence in the Chicago extreme thrash scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s.
It appears that the original trio of Funeral Nation began as a conjoining of ex-members of pre-Funeral Bitch speed metal band named Assault that would link those musicians with Paul Speckmann (Master, Death Strike, etc.) and lead to community among musicians from Funeral Bitch and (the main songwriting duo in) Abomination. I’ve heard 2-3 different sides to the story within old zine interviews but it seems that basically Funeral Bitch would drop the first line-up for a style change and all demos are credited to different musicians. Those same musicians were aware of Abomination in 1987, who would re-staff in that same year after writing songs they would take with them into Funeral Nation. None of it really matters and the point is that Funeral Nation formed due to the collapse of a couple of extreme thrash bands and what looks like (on paper) a set of failed relationship with Paul Speckmann. Could be off base with that one but from that point the wayward thrashers forged their own path as a trio that would see only one personnel change in the years since 1989. The band themselves label their sound as ‘black thrash metal’ though the general consensus among folks is that their work is more relevant to the death/thrash of the era. I’m inclined to agree on a very broad level, it isn’t quite first wave black metal nor is it pure thrash or death/thrash in full. This will be a fairly short entry due to only wanting to cover the releases that are between a certain timeline and relevance but, trust that Funeral Nation‘s bandcamp is full of twice as many odds, ends, and compilations. Hey! I’ve done my best to research as much as I can but please feel free to message me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment if I’ve left out anything vital or gotten something horribly wrong!
|Title [Type/Year]||The Abomination Tapes [Rehearsal/1987]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp!|
As often as I’ve heard over the years that Funeral Nation would come from the split-up of Funeral Bitch it’d seem that the songwriting sessions that most closely resembled what Funeral Nation would become when they formed would arise from this set of tracks recorded the year that Abomination formed. Now we wouldn’t hear these songs until I believe 2014 and, as the band comment on their Bandcamp, any people had disputed their existence but lo-and-behold here is a 1987 four song demo with several rehearsal tracks in the form of a self-released compilation. If you’re familiar with the style of double bass heavy drumming that Aaron Nikeus used in Abomination as well as nearby records from Master (‘Collection of Souls’, ‘On the Seventh Day God Created… Master’) and Body Bag you’ll recognize his presence behind the kit immediately. No doubt if you’re not yet familiar with how brutal the mid-to-late 80’s thrash scene was in Chicago you’re in for a mind-melting hyper blast compared to a lot of tame east coast US and Bay Area stuff. I personally love both of the first two Abomination albums with ‘Tragedy Strikes’ (1991) being a record I prefer over basically any Master record to date so, this is a trip to hear after so many years spent with the other Abomination material. Most of the songs from the main demo here would end up on Funeral Nation‘s first demo in 1989.
|Title [Type/Year]||State of Insanity [Demo/1989]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp!|
When I sit and think about how to describe Funeral Nation just as they struck out on their own beyond Abomination/Funeral Bitch well… if you’ve read previous entries in this series you know I’m reaching for straight for a bottle of Slayer when it comes to these sort of flourish rich speed metal-meets-thrash metal song structures but, that’d be too reductive as ‘State of Insanity’ progresses. The big shift here beyond that long lost Abomination demo towards this one is a total shift in drum style whereas Nikeus‘ drumming was double-bass dependent, drummer Dave Chiarella from Funeral Bitch was through and through a fellow with speed/thrash metal in every kick; So I’d say his style early on was similar to what you’d hear on ‘Scream Bloody Gore’ or say, Necrophagia‘s debut. “Reign of Death/Midnight Hour” is probably the most intense track here with its savage speed metal riff-spikes and thrash n’ rolling death attack. Shouts of “Hail Satan!” and such kinda put this on par with the wilder side of bands like Coven at the time. It all feels bold and pissed as you’d want it to be coming out of the brutal Midwest thrash arena. This demo would be re-released in 1991 by the bands first label, Turbo Records, as an EP that’d come out after ‘After the Battle’. Seems like the label was incredibly forceful with Funeral Nation at the time and did everything they could to usurp creative control over mix and mastering, but hey more about that soon. I would say that this demo is more of a novelty to see how the songs continued to develop. Most all of these songs would end up on their debut full-length.
|Title [Type/Year]||After the Battle [Full-length/1991]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp! | Non-Turbo Records Version [Bandcamp]|
Now we get to both the ‘main event’ and a bit of fuckery on the part of Turbo Records. From what I gather the band sent in a finished record (mixed and mastered as intended) and the record label retooled it. Reverb strangled drum sounds that were straight out of 1985 German speed metal engineering mistakes make their way into this ‘Hell Awaits’ and Motörhead influenced death/thrash record and fuck with its inherently evil presence. Now, there are two camps for this sort of situation and I can only stay neutral to a certain point. On one hand history is history and I can appreciate how ‘After the Battle’ sounded in 1991, yes they fucked up the record and made it sound old for its time but there is a fucked up charm to that brokenness that is shared with some of my favorite albums such as the original mix of Insanity‘s ‘Death After Death’ or, even ‘Beneath the Remains’ was more or less mishandled to some degree. Before you make that decision listen to the ‘After The Battle XXV’ version of the album from 2016 that celebrated the bands 25th anniversary, the drums still sound awful but they’ve boosted enough of those layers up where you hear more of the intention of the final mix. Either version will give you a good idea of where Funeral Nation were at in 1991, a death/thrash metal band that still leaned heavily towards evil thrash metal and probably intended something closer to their own idea of ‘first wave’ black metal judging by how they see their own discography. It is blasphemous, relentless, heavy and indisputably evil. Is it -that- great? No, I mean I love the riffs here but both versions of this album have feel mishandled in terms of clashing levels on performances that never quite look too far beyond Slayer-isms. This release would be the end of their collaboration with drummer Dave Chiarella who would join the nascent Disinter after their initial line-up fell through.
|Title [Type/Year]||The Benediction [Demo/1992]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp! | Open Wide the Gates Compilation|
Dean Olson joined on drums and has been their choice at the kit since. After fucking off of Turbo Records hard Funeral Nation would put together the ‘The Benediction’ demo. The band created their own label, RK Productions, and have been independent ever since. What is this demo all about? I’d say at this point ‘The Benediction’ is some of the most technical guitar work from the band but also deals a heavy dose of their rowdy rock n’ roll influenced attack. If you were looking for a trip down pure death metal lane you won’t likely find it in any Funeral Nation release but the material here isn’t a far cry from the material on ‘After the Battle’ beyond some sharper guitar takes. I always thought “Encased in Glass” really ‘made’ this album despite the kind of janky Angelkill style of vocals they use for the ‘ballad’ sections of the song. Olson‘s style of drumming is more precise and easy than previous drummers they’d employed and I think they felt this was a great fit because Funeral Nation are at heart an old school heavy metal band that employs a blasphemous extremity, this kind of falls in line with their own thoughts on being called black/thrash metal besides death metal. Nonetheless the kind of folks who will love this demo most are probably big fans of stuff like Abomination and Master. Not feeling the original demo version? Honestly, me neither and I found I one hundred percent preferred the remixed/mastered version from the ‘Open Wide the Gates of Hell’ compilation which includes some other 7″ single tracks and leftovers from 1992 ’til 1994. I’d say the rejiggered version of ‘The Benediction’ is probably the best work the band had done up until that point.
|Title [Type/Year]||Storm of the Witch [Demo/1996]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
I’ve included this only to show what original Funeral Nation drummer Dave Chiarella had been up to beyond his split from the band around 1992. Sources typically suggest that Chiarella was in Disinter from 1990 until 1999 but their first demo had a different drummer in 1990, it seemed like he joined for the reunion in 1996. What can you expect? Twenty minutes of jogging, ruinous horror and macabre hung brutal death metal. You might like this if you’re familiar with bands like early Broken Hope, Baphomet, Benighted, and that sort of Cannibal Corpse-meets-Deceased thing that a lot of Midwest brutal fiends were kicking around at the time, if they were smart enough to avoid groove metal. Not a major point of interest but I found this good enough to warrant a mention before wrapping up.
Funeral Nation picked things back up in 2010 and have released pretty much ideal versions of all of their official recordings, every extra archive, two new EPs, a split and several compilations since. The feeling I get when I look at their history and listen to their discography is that these are independent minded people who don’t take shit and are a hundred percent willing to say “Fuck you, I’ll go my own way.” and I respect that some of those choices might not have made them profitable in the early days but today nobody can dispute that Funeral Nation are a side-note in extreme metal history that always maintained the integrity of their unique vision. I admire the hell out of that.
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