Words by Callum Baird
The late 80s/early 90s were an exciting time for metal, the reign of thrash seemed to be coming to an end as underground metal scenes across the globe experimented with a darker, more macabre sound.
Tape trading and fanzines were rife throughout Europe at this time which quickly spread any news of new bands or releases to isolated pockets of fans. Death Metal picked up an interested in Finland with bands such as CARCASS, AUTOPSY and OBITUARY being cited by many Finnish Death Metal bands as strong influences on their sound. The ferocity of the music was accelerated and turned up a dozen notches when teenagers across Finland picked up their guitars and drum sticks, delving into harsher primal tones of what became Finnish Death Metal. A common factor of the band members across these demos is that they were, for the most part, very young when they recorded the demos. The lo-fi quality of the recordings is also commonplace amongst these tapes, and in my opinion crucial in creating the atmosphere attributed to the Finnish sound. Whilst there is a number of strong death metal records from Finland, I believe the demos of these bands capture the true power and rawness in a way a high production LP can not. So here is my top 5 quintessential, defining, brutal Finnish Death Metal demos. Starting with:
SENTENCED – ROTTING WAYS TO MISERY 1991 (June)
Hailing from Muhos/Oulu, Sentenced started as a thrash band called Deformity in the autumn of 1988. They changed their name and started to play Death Metal instead of thrash (name and style changes for metal bands in Finland and Scandinavia occurred a lot before and after the dawn of Death Metal) and released their first demo called ‘When Death Joins Us…‘. The first demo is worth checking out, but ‘Rotting Ways To Misery’ steps up the intensity and style way more and demonstrates the band at their best for me. The demo starts with the title track that kicks straight into a morbid sounding lead part typical of Finnish Death Metal. This is followed by an incredible deep guttural growl and a pummeling blast beat section. Miika Tenkula’s (RIP) vocals on this demo is near perfect, they remind me a lot of Karl Willet’s in that the voice can still be heard and it’s not completely trying to emulate some demonic beast all of the time. The tempo changes and doom sections of this demo are executed with head-banging excellence and this combined with face melting solos makes crushingly brutal music. This is shown in the intense chugging riff in ‘Disengagement’, it wouldn’t surprise me if ASPHYX were listening to this demo when writing ‘Last One On Earth‘. My only qualm with this demo is that some of the lead patterns are pretty cheesy and shows a glimmer of the melodic style change Sentenced took in the mid 90s. The full length that came out on Thrash records entitled ‘Shadows of the Past‘ features the tracks from this demo so you can check out the songs with a hifi production, compare it with the demo and decide yourself which sounds better!
CONVULSE – RESUSCITATION OF EVILNESS 1990 (Nov)
Convulse produced my favourite Finnish Death Metal LP ‘World Without God‘ in 1991, so it’s only natural their demo ‘Resuscitation Of Evilness’ makes it onto the list when all of the songs from it feature on the LP (this was also on Thrash Records, which was recommended to them when they’d asked for advice from SENTENCED). What better way to start a death metal demo with a growl that increases in volume to a heavy stabbing pattern. Convulse manage to use great doom elements too and incorporate them with distorted, down tuned single note crushing breakdowns. Also, the use of church bells in time with a riff is of course, brilliant. The demo was recorded when the band were all aged 17 years old and 1000 copies were made, according to singer and guitarist Rami Jämsä. The stand out track for me is ‘Resuscitation of Evilness’, which features all of Convulse’s best elements: unrelenting tremolo riffs, pulverising chugging patterns, devilish dive bombs and sinful solos. The only song I’m not too keen on is the last track ‘Powerstruggle of Belief’, the main riff in it is phased in a cheesy way and doesn’t sound like Convulse to me. Maybe I should relax on my vendetta against cheesy riffs, but regardless, this demo is a brutal piece of Finnish Death Metal history and the tracks from it went on to be part of a defining LP.
FUNEBRE – CRANIAL TORMENT 1989 (Oct)
‘Cranial Torment’ is the earliest of the demos featured on this list and Funebre are often cited as one of the first Finnish Death Metal bands. They are the Neanderthal of the group; primitive, devouring and arguably essential for the existence of the other bands featured on this list, such was their influence. The demo is very raw sounding in terms of the production and the music, the band seem to lend from early extreme metal bands like HELLHAMMER and VENOM with added death metal style. A favourite part of mine from the sound of the demo is how prominent the bass is which seems to always lack in this kind of music. The vocal delivery style from singer Jari is typically low and hellish elongated growls similar to those of Craig Pillard. The muddled dissonant guitar solo towards the end of ‘Necropolis Discomposure’ which then breaks off into a trudging breakdown session is another great highlight. The demo as a whole is early death metal prowess for me; the low technical musical ability of the band (drummer barely keeping in time, guitarist solos completely random) makes for magnificence as it truly captures a rawness that cannot be bought or practiced, it is perfection in imperfection.
DEMIGOD – UNHOLY DOMAIN (1991)
Formed in 1990, Demigod took to AMR-Studio in Viala December 1990 (chosen purely because it was cheap and close by) to record their demo ‘Unholy Domain’. They managed to create one of the most influential pieces of death metal recorded, back when the band was a 3 piece too. The intro to this demo is the most immense death metal intro to exist in my opinion. A haunting keyboard progression starts on the first track ‘Perpetual Ascent’, closely followed by church bells, constant slow pounding double bass and rough, distorted, downtuned, murky, crushing guitars. The tone of the guitars on this demo are so distorted and heavy it’s suffocating. The intro song flows flawlessly into the next track ‘Anxiety’ which starts off with tremolo riffs and drum stabs which gradually speed up in intensity on the drums until it breaks down to a slow steady beat on the drums. The sound and style of the drumming on the demo is excellent, the reverb and the sharpness of the symbols/bell hits compliment and fit into the distorted tones of the guitars superbly. The vocals don’t standout much but aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. The final track ‘Succumb To Dark’ advances into a crippling head banging chugging part which no mortal being could resist nodding along to (it’s that fucking good). The bass break in this song also highlights it’s not just the guitars that are incredibly distorted too. (Side note: Demigod chose to record their 1992 full-length ‘Slumber of Sullen Eyes‘ at Tico-Tico Studios were Sentenced recorded ‘Rotting…’ after they heard it)
ABHORRENCE – VULGAR NECROLATRY 1990 (Feb)
This is it, the pinnacle of Finnish Death Metal demos; Abhorrence’s – Vulgar Necrolatry. A precursor to arguably the best death metal record of all time, the self titled EP that came out later in the same year on the infamous Seraphic Decay Records. Abhorrence was a short lived band that didn’t play outside of their home country apart from when they played a show with in Norway and stayed with MAYHEM (read more on that story here). The demo starts with an eerie intro titled ‘The Cult’ in which dissonant keyboard tones play over incomprehensible voice altered speech. This eventually breaks out into the first song ‘Vulgar Necrolatry’. Instantly you are punished by high velocity drums and tremolo guitars, with the quintessential and distinguishing tone that Abhorrence delivers. The song advances into a sinister slow lead progression, which when reintroduced at the end of the song with stabs and divebombs is incredible death metal glory. ‘Vulgar Necrolatry’ is that heavy, morbid and evil sounding it could easily be conceived as the soundtrack played when taking over the river Styx to the gates of the Underworld. Abhorrence have the ability to effectively create an eerie dark atmosphere whilst simultaneously grinding you to ribbons with punishing fast parts and pummeling distorted breakdowns. I urge anyone who hasn’t listened to this demo or the 7 inch to listen to them immediately and forever be converted to praise and pray at the disgusting, vulgar, putrid altar of Abhorrence.