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!
As soon as Hellhammer became Celtic Frost the seeds for extreme metal across Europe were cemented in history forever but the greater Zürich scene around them would not immediately attract masses of bands that’d stand out. Coroner, Necromancer, and Messiah all found some path forward within extreme thrash metal movements but it was Excruciation who’d be one of the first to emphasize the nuclear thrashing doom of early extreme metal in a unique and bizarrely ‘punk rock’ fashion. Their evolution from buzzing hardcore/crust punk influenced Hellhammer worship towards a unique style all their own came to an abrupt halt in 1991 but the legacy of demos and an EP has left a lasting impression that few would reflect upon until 2005 when the band was revived and began restoring their legacy through some proper reissues. I have always appreciated Excruciation because they did not ever seem to shy away from their early days, and were always happy to document their 80’s material because on some level they’d paid attention to how important to the development of extreme metal their type of band was and is today. The last three demos from the band in the late 80’s are fairly hard to find outside of the ‘Anno Domini…’ compilation which was remastered, so if you have original tape rips of any of them or the full ‘Anno Domini – An Anthology of the Past’ please make it available for streaming and notify my. For now, some excerpts will allow for enough of a window into progression of Excruciation‘s sound during their first seven years. 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 Fourth Apocalyptic Rider [Demo/1985]|
|Rating [3.0/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp|
The first demo from this Zürich based project would come together in the midst of the band finding the right line-up and it is sort of a wild ride to consider. The two founding members of the band José Venegas (guitars) and Mat Arani (drums) would not last long in the band but they’d more or less stick around for the first Excruciation demo, a raw crust punk influenced take on Hellhammer that ventured into the span of nascent death metal, doom metal, and thrash without nailing any of these components. The riffs speak a similar language as early Messiah but the influences and musical capabilities are almost entirely different at this point. This tape wouldn’t end up defining the band at all due to the entrance of a new drummer (Andy Renggli of Necromancer) in 1985 who’d steer things in a more extreme direction on the second tape from the band, who’d not yet played a live show.
|Title [Type/Year]||First Assault [Demo/1985+1986]|
|Rating [3.25/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp|
So these are technically two recordings that each have their own charm but it made sense to glue their realities together to show just how much their sound would change even in the space of four months. The first version of ‘First Assault’ was recorded in October of 1985, a raw and sloppy crust punk heavy take on thrash that shares a sort of spirit animal with the earliest rehearsals from Slaughter and Poison. Excruciation were not happy with the live sound quality and decided to withdraw the demo, er basically stop sending out the tapes and quickly scheduled time to re-record a second version of ‘First Assault’ in February 1986 with some completely new and reworked songs alongside most of the tracks from the first version. It was clear the band had gotten the memo that they needed to clean some of their raw edges up and increase the speed, they did exactly that and the result is not the heaviest death/thrash demo from 1986 but certainly one of the most unique takes on what would briefly be considered a Zürich sound incorporating the yet to be defined fringes of death metal, thrash metal, and doom. See if you can pinpoint the ‘The Stooges but doom’ moment towards the end of the tape and bask in it! This second version of the demo is where I feel the Excruciation story begins to get interesting from a musical standpoint because it was clear that the intention to get serious had sparked around this time.
|Title [Type/Year]||Last Judgement [EP/1987]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp! | EP + Demos [Bandcamp]|
A lot of doors would open for Excruciation in 1986 as they would play their first live sets and quickly hit shows in Germany due to the growing popularity of their appearances in Zürich. Things came to a head at once where the defining moment for the band arrived with the recording of ‘Last Judgement’, a release long heralded by enthusiasts of classic thrash that has never gotten enough credit for its ‘Pleasure to Kill’ level of extremity and very heavy sound that alternates between ’85 era Destruction riffs and early Celtic Frost grooves effortlessly. Guitarist and co-found José Venegas quit the band at this point and I’m sure I read why this happened during interviews back in 2005 when the band reformed with him included but the internet is an awful place where websites collapse and delete their content with it. It goes without saying Excruciation were among the coolest, darkest speed metal out of Switzerland at the time beyond maybe Carrion‘s sole full-length the year earlier but ‘Last Judgement’ was a fucked up trip otherwise, I mean “Hateful Pain” couldn’t have been expected at that point and it showed impressive versatility whipping out a very heavy doom metal song even if the intro is a bit clumsy to start. Though the band state that this was a demo it would be released on 12″ vinyl in the summer of 1987 and cement the early legacy of the band into memorable history. Plenty of touring followed eventually resulting in the unreleased ‘Life of Immortality‘ live demo tape from 1987 and it’d appear that Excruciation did not at all suffer from the loss of their original guitarist as they’d been more than capable as a quartet.
|Title [Type/Year]||Prophecy of Immortality [Demo/1988]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube | “The Mask” remastered version|
Here’s where everything gets incredibly weird and powerfully non-mainstream as Excruciation takes hints from gothic rock, post-punk, death metal, thrash and doom metal for a screaming freak of a tape that was intended to be the debut full-length from the band. For all intensive purposes ‘Prophecy of Immortality’ is a death/thrash record so far outside of the box I’ve spent a couple of decades wishing it’d have been given the full treatment. There isn’t a more beautiful freak buried in the band’s basement. As you’ll see on “The Mask” things are very fucking weird, like King Diamond death/thrash goth operetta weird, and it rules because they’ve managed a heavy as hell sound which was emphasized by the master all 1988-1990 demos received for the ‘Anno Domini – An Anthology of the Past’ compilation in 1991. If you grab the more thrash oriented rip of the original tape on the link to “Pleasure N’ Pain” I’ve provided you’ll appreciate the remastered versions additional heft but the original tape’s sound is much better in my opinion, sounds a lot more like a gothic death metal tape long before that was a thing.
|Title [Type/Year]||Abyss of Time [Demo/1989]|
|Rating [3.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube! | “Call of Desperation” remastered|
The sound quality had improved even more with this second of the last three tapes in succession from Excruciation and it seemed that they’d not missed a beat in terms of style but it did become obvious that the Celtic Frost influences would begin to inform Eugenio Meccariello‘s vocal style and some of the uh, King Diamond-esque storytelling. Motherrr!!! etc. If “Mercyless Destiny” doesn’t make you laugh at the end you’re not having enough fun with it. Today a healthy niche would support a band that sounded like this but in 1989 the die hards would only allow one Frost. Second guitarist George Hauser would join the band this year but did not play on this demo.
|Title [Type/Year]||Act of Despair [Demo/1990]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||“Wardance” on YouTube! | Listen on Petp.ch [Full Demo]|
If you’d only heard the version of “Wardance” you’d think Excruciation had fully leaned into death metal but the style of their final demo tape before disbanding, ‘Act of Despair’ is more along the lines of groove metal influenced death/doom overall. It is equally hard to peg into any one sub-genre combination as anything previous but the general chance is one of more straight-forward heaviness. None of the operatic melodramatics of the last two demos are in place and as such the focus moves towards heavier riffs and a reasonable candidate for an early death/doom demo that was still relevant to the thrash metal scene of the time. Doom/thrash metal? Kind of. If this was to be the full evolution of the band leading up to yet another unrealized full-length then I think most people would be satisfied to see this type of sound reinvigorated in 2005 with the original line-up, yes the reunion was bigger and weirder since but this is where I think Excruciation had found themselves and perhaps gotten bored with themselves at once.
|Title [Type/Year]||Anno Domini – An Anthology of the Past [Compilation/1991]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube! [Random Playlist]|
‘Act of Despair’ had gotten the band signed to Turbo Records, a label from Germany who would quickly create a “Turbo U.S.A.” imprint and release records by Beherit, Acheron, Goatlord, Mortuary and our previously covered death/thrash oddities Funeral Nation for ‘After the Battle’. Before the band were ready to record and release their debut full-length the label would release this collection of the ‘Prophecy of Immortality’, ‘Abyss of Time’ and ‘Act of Despair’ demos with one of the tracks from ‘Abyss of Time’ removed. This would serve as a sort of quasi full-length for the legacy for the band as they would call it quits that same year and as far as I know a full-length never got beyond the planning stages. This isn’t a huge shame because the remixing/remaster from the studio where they’d recorded each of the three demos breathes some life into their dry thrash metal production sounds, it is perhaps more noticeable on the CD version rather than the tape’s sound. This is a fine document of the final years of Excruciation beyond the exit of their original guitarist and I’d say they were absolutely onto something special with what would have been their first full-length following ‘Last Judgement’. I still think ‘Prophecy of Immortality’ deserved to be released back in 1988 and each time I listen it is a shame that it wasn’t given the spotlight it’d deserved. This compilation becomes more rare with every year as collectors aren’t keen to part with it. It deserves to be immortalized with a vinyl issue!
That is it, the first several waves of Excruciation‘s existence. A band of youths who’d go from a bunch of bums in a garage cranking out Hellhammer influenced metal punk that’d eventually realize they were onto something, cranking out an early form of extreme metal that went in a very different direction than their peers in Messiah and Coroner. If nothing else they’d arrived at a semblance of 80’s death metal tonality within their Celtic Frost influenced thrashing doom sound int he late 80’s and that last demo should be of interest to early death/doom metal fandom. The key releases here are ‘Last Judgement’ and the full ‘Anno Domini…’ release if you can find it. Otherwise, I felt it’d be important to point towards one more bit of activity beyond Excruciation that doesn’t receive much attention but shows some death/thrash intent.
|Title [Type/Year]||Requiem [Demo/1993]|
|Rating [3.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Soon after Excruciation decided to call it quits, apparently out of disinterest, vocalist Eugenio Meccariello would found the short lived Requiem. Their sole demo from 1993 would feature a typical groove metal style that was somewhat informed by death/thrash and technical thrash metal along the way. The intention was likely pure death metal but because Meccariello‘s vocals were so hardcorish it feels much more like a groove metal sound. Of course I doubt Excruciation would have sounded like this on a ’91 or ’92 full-length but things did appear to be heading in a much more brutish, heavy direction with their 1990 demo. I found this release relevant to the bigger picture and also ties into the ambitions of more tasteful but similarly heavy bands like Caustic around that same time.
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