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!
There might’ve been no question Florida death metal pioneers Obituary rightfully embodied the exemplar death metal sound of the 80’s thanks to a healthy amount of thrash metal influence but, you’d likely have no idea that they’d began as an extreme thrash metal band in earnest back in 1984. If you’d been studious about buying limited editions and deluxe reissues of each full-length over the years some of these demo tracks should be familiar, particularly “Find the Arise” from the 1986 demo that would also kick off their ‘Anthology’ compilation from the late 90’s. No official demo collection has ever been released and the rationale will make a lot of sense once you’ve heard superior versions of some of these songs on ‘Slowly We Rot’ but there are some surprisingly good cuts to be found on tapes from the 1984-1988 version of the band leading up to their infamous debut. 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]||Metal Up Your Ass [Demo/1985]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
Before they were Obituary they were Xecutioner and before that they were Executioner and though they seemed salty about changing their name for a second time back in interviews it was probably the best decision the band ever made considering their commercial viability afterwards. Eh, but back to the situation at hand: This two song demo tape (and 7″) from Executioner was a healthy spank of early Slayer taken to a slightly more extreme place though it features very basic thrash metal riffs that ranged from Exodus spinners and a sort of Hallow’s Eve meets Dream Death sort of approach to thrash that was nascent death in true form. Vocalist John Tardy would already stand out but clearly not in the same way, sounding a bit like a hardcore/crossover shouter rather than an extreme thrasher at this point. These songs are great and I’d say they hold up well enough considering how rudimentary Executioner was at the time. Of note here is original second guitarist Jerry Tidwell would eventually guest on the Tardy Brothers‘ ‘Bloodlines’ album in 2009.
|Title [Type/Year]||Demo 1986 [Demo/1986]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Without a doubt this was one of the most ‘advanced’ pure death metal sounds put to tape in 1986 and is typically what folks see as the solidification of the original Obituary sound. Heavy Celtic Frost-meets-thrash riffs jam under Tardy‘s now distinct and powerful vocal style. As interesting as this demo is it is also very short duo of two minute songs that leave little in terms of memorable impact. This makes sense in terms of how this would apply to the first full-length but I never felt this was either the most satisfying nor most interesting demo from the Florida scene at that point. The most notable trivia connected to this demo should be obvious as Allen West had been recruited with his style of guitar solos all over this thing and one of his former Massacre mates JP Chartier plays second guitar here. It is also worth mentioning that West played guitar on Massacre‘s first official demo, ‘Aggressive Tyrant‘, that same year.
|Title [Type/Year]||Immortal Visions in the Morgue [Live Bootleg/1987]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
Recorded live in Tampa, Florida on April 10th, 1987 this recording is different from the 1987 demo that’d feature three newer songs and it is also not the 1987 rehearsal tape that has circulated among the few lucky enough to be in the right place ad the right time. Clearly this was now a death/thrash band right on the verge of pure death metal but I think generalist thrash metal fans will enjoy this sound. This is probably one of the earliest releases from the band to give off an early hint of their slower ‘death/doom’ metal resemblance. Clean sounding live set, great old songs, and plenty of aggressive thrashing madness.
|Title [Type/Year]||Demo 1987 [Demo/1987]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
At this point Xecutioner were dead serious about getting big as media attention and sales began to hit the Florida scene, which was admittedly still completely minor in attendance compared to the notice received. This self-recorded tape from 1987 would set the band off in the mind of R/C Records (Roadracer aka Roadrunner) and sign them for a multi-album deal. Well, they weren’t entirely there yet in 1987 though and this muddy death/thrash and doom metal tape was still a formative oddity in some respects. The core influences shared among most of the bigger Florida death metal bands were all pronounced within Xecutioner‘s sound at this point: Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Possessed, Slayer, Venom, Metallica, Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Exodus all played a major part in providing the framework and inspiration for the up-the-ante cause that’d make death metal what it was in the early 90’s. It should sound like two steps forward and two steps back in terms of where Obituary would arrive with ‘Slowly We Rot’ in 1989 but most all of the material here would be chopped up for song ideas on that debut, most notably “Enter the Gate of Hell” would close Side A from their debut.
|Title [Type/Year]||Raging Death Vol. 1 [Compilation/1987]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Five bands and two songs each all pretty much killer material with notable murderers from Sadus and (pre-Atheist band) R.A.V.A.G.E. alongside pretty decent thrash songs from Lethal Presence and Betrayel both of whom were great Dark Angel-esque rippers that went nowhere. Check out “Strangled Death” from Lethal Presence in particular. Otherwise we get the two tracks from the 1986 Xecutioner demo and it sounds like they were mastered specifically for this compilation but in fact it all got pulled from the same source tapes without mastering or re-recording anything. Guitarist Trevor Peres remarks that he’d had to step away from the band for about 5-6 months (keep in mind, these guys were all mostly in high school) due to a personal issue and once he was back they decided to use these two songs rather than re-record the material they’d written together.
Looking back it is easy to hear the ‘scene’ Obituary‘s development took place in, with some of that base rhythmic approach shared with friends in nearby groups Massacre and Death but this turns out be a side-effect of being huge fans of the same pool of extreme thrash bands (mentioned in the previous demo description) and pushing the limits of heaviness within the same circles. It is vital to note first how young the guys were and second that just because one band got a record out first doesn’t mean their compatriots nearby were directly influenced by them.
Anyhow, you know what happens next. From 1988-1989 ‘Slowly We Rot’ would put Obituary on the map as one of the earlier examples of pure death metal to hit mainstream audiences. I was a huge fan of this band from the first hit of this record all the way up to about 1998 (and some of the later albums too, ‘Frozen in Time’ especially). Do I think any of these pre-‘Slowly We Rot’ recordings are as essential to death metal history? Well, actually yeah I do think the first demo shows where they were coming from to start and the song “Find the Arise” really did -make- Obituary‘s career in the long run.
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