Sunday, 10 July 2011

Decomposed - British great but forgotten

Oh man, British death metal scene. Who remembers the glory of it, all these fantastic bands that created genres and influenced hundreds of others? Napalm Death, Carcass, Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Bolt Thrower, Benediction, Cancer, Anathema... And what can we say about the Brits nowadays? Lousy bands with kids looking like on the fashion show, with gelled hair and stupid haircuts? Yes, this is the picture I personally have. So it's better to remind you some old British bands, instead of loosing time for shit like Annotations of Autopsy or fucking whatever.
Decomposed... Anyone?
Honestly I have a small problem with this band. I think I can say that this British group should be known to some fans who’re involved in the metal underground, all in all it’s a band which managed to release a full length and get some decent attention from the maniacs… But I’ve tried to look for any concrete info about DECOMPOSED and nothing (if you have some old band pictures somewhere, send them!)! It’s really annoying, as it would be great to present some more useful info about them. But well, as I haven’t got much, I just can write what I can.
DECOMPOSED was formed in 1990 in Craydon and the first line up I know about was Alastair Riddell – guitar, Harry Armstrong – bass / vocals and Tim Spear – drums. Since the beginning the band kind of fit to the current wave of British bands that were creating the doom / death metal type of music – likes of ANATHEMA, MY DYING BRIDE or PARADISE LOST walked this path first, but DECOMPOSED style was I think much more brutal and not so melodic as their countrymen.
The first demo “Sermons of Morbidity” from 1990 was rather uninteresting, as the band probably hasn’t had a clear vision of what music they want to play yet and also the effect on the demo is just very primitive, with totally raw production; more of a rehearsal than a studio work. The second demo, titled “Ego Sum Lex Mundi” was better in this matter, bringing some changes into band’s style. It was recorded with new guitarist though, James Ogawa, who replaced Riddell, but quality of the recording again isn’t the best, although DECOMPOSED got quite good feedback with it and surely there’s a noticeable progress in composing / sound issues. Two of the songs from this demo were even released on 7”EP by PUTRID CORPSE Productions – “Dying Diseased” and “Procession” got different mixes and the single was released in a 500 copies limit. Soon later, in 1992, the British doom / death crew got an offer to record another EP (in January 1992 at RHYTHM Studios, with Paul Johnson as a producer), which was released on 12” format by THE RECORD LABEL and was titled “The Funeral Obsession”, with only two songs on it, but definitely this was the best recording of the band so far. Before the studio session took place DECOMPOSED added a second guitarist, Pete Shasdell, to the line up and surely you can hear on this EP that with a second guitarist the sound is much better and so is the music.

After the EP the band concentrates on the next material. CANDLELIGHT Records puts out an offer for the album and so between the 19th - 25th of April, 1993, DECOMPOSED enters the RHYTHM Studios to record the debut full length. “Hope Finally Died...” appears at the end of the year and for sure is one of the best death metal records ever to come out from the British land. Brutal, slow paced death / doom, with a unique atmosphere… something similar to early ANATHEMA, but different at the same time. Definitely this was great album, but it didn’t give DECOMPOSED much fame – at least their popularity was much smaller than of their countrymen from MY DYING BRIDE, ANATHEMA or PARADISE LOST. One may blame the record label for it, as CANDLELIGHT wasn’t big and prolific at that time and only just have began their underground work – “Hope Finally Died...” being their third release yet! But remember that the same year saw the release of such cult albums as ”Serenades” or “Turn Loose the Swans” – and let’s be honest: “Hope Finally Dies...” isn’t as good as these two LPs. Anyway, soon after the release of this album DECOMPOSED deceased, and nowadays we can only feed on their decomposed corpse by listening to their works. It’s worth mentioning that most of band members carried on their music career, not necessary in metal bands. Harry Armstrong played also in LORD OF PUTREFACTION, later on he joined stoner doom metal act called HANGNAIL with which he recorded two full lengths for RISE ABOVE Records. He also played on the debut EP of London based RISE TO ADDICTION (heavy groove metal) and been a leader of another stoner doom band from London END OF LEVEL BOSS, which did already two albums. At the moment he’s also a member of post rock band called THE WINCHESTER CLUB. In some of these later bands he played with James Ogawa (HANGNAIL, END OF LEVEL BOSS) while Tim Spear has joined him in THE WINCHESTER CLUB.

Sermons of Morbidity (demo 1990)
Recorded: Unknown
Recording line up: Alastair Riddell – guitar, Harry Armstrong – bass / vocals and Tim Spear – drums
This demo sounds rough. Think of some of the most brutal and violent death metal demos, some sick and inhuman shit, with very raw, almost rehearsal like production and you’ll get “Sermons of Morbidity”. The most intriguing thing about this demo is the fact that when I started to listen to it for the first time ever I knew DECOMPOSED from their great full length and EP they did few years later. So musically I was pretty much expecting something in similar vein, meanwhile there’s only a very small trace of doom / death here (it's the same impression when you listen to the first ANATHEMA demo!). What I was hit by instead was furious, grinding death metal! Most of the music from this tape is played in very fast tempos, what seems like the guys didn’t have mercy for both their instruments and neighbours. They just shred the riffs like maniacal butchers, not hesitating to create chaos and bloodbath. Of course I can hear easily that the technical skills of each band member were rather small then; the drummer cannot put the blasts properly, he just produced noise (other thing is that the drums sound horrid!), but that’s the whole charm of such recordings – who cares if it’s chaotic and ear-splitting, as it's a demo? And listen to these vocals – so brutal that someone may say they’re not normal, but you know what? I really like them also he, he! So yeah, musically “Sermons of Morbidity” is not quite what DECOMPOSED is most known for; I guess the band was still about to decide which musical path they’ll choose, but you can already spot some traces of doom metal, like the slow beginning of “Life Expires” or one fragment in “Dying Diseased”. The main course of this feast is grinding death metal in early BOLT THROWER / PARADISE LOST style, so very standard and typical shit. But despite that rough sound and overall amateurish feel to it, I just like listening to it. Maybe I am insane?
Best song: “Life Expires”
Final rate: 60/100

Ego Sum Lex Mundi (demo 1991 / re-released on 7”EP by PUTRID CORPSE Records)
Recorded: Recorded and mixed by Justin Spear and DECOMPOSED.
Recording line up: James Ogawa – guitar, Harry Armstrong – bass / vocals and Tim Spear – drums
The second demo from DECOMPOSED brings changes. While the first demo tape “Sermons of Morbidity” surprised me, as it didn’t have much in common with the future doomy style of DECOMPOSED, this second tape, “Ego Sum Lex Mundi” is much closer to that. Definitely DECOMPOSED decided to go in completely different direction from what they’ve done on the debut – maybe they’ve done it under a strong influence of other British bands or maybe they just felt that the grinding / death style from the first demo sounded too typical and boring?! Who knows, anyway “Ego Sum Lex Mundi” presents a band evolving. The best way to spot that is to listen to the opening song “Burials / Dying Diseased”, which is more or less the re-recording of the song from the first demo. But…! But the thing is you can hardly say it’s the same song. The opening theme remained pretty much unchanged, but then the following riffs are all slowed down totally, played like 10 times slower, what gives just such a different mood from the original version. OK, they may have kept that bit faster riff in the middle part of the track, but as overall the song seems to be much heavier, slower and… well, in fragments it sounds like something between BOLT THROWER and ANATHEMA. Even the vocals remind me of Darren White’s deep growling. I guess I don’t have to mention that the “Ego Sum Lex Mundi” version of “Dying Diseased” is also ten times better than the original. Then the second song starts with a riff, which I can kill someone, but is a rip off of a riff from another band… the problem is that I can’t put a name on it now (yhhh, TIAMAT maybe??). I just know I’ve heard it somewhere else. Anyway, “Infectious Growth” is really killer song, more mid paced maybe, with some crushing slow riffs here and there also, but total crazy headbanger. I also like the occasional melody that appears in it. Definitely it’s the best song on the demo! Finally “Procession of the Undertakers” is one, damn slow and rotten doom / death metal motherfucker in classic WINTER / ANATHEMA / PARADISE LOST tradition. Whole song is just slow and brutal, with some guitar solos… It fastens a bit in the mid part, just like ANATHEMA’s “Sleepless”, but that’s just a short fragment. Production wise “Ego Sum Lex Mundi” isn’t the most professional of the demo recordings I’ve ever heard, but it’s fine in my opinion. Such harsh and raw production surely fits well this type of music. All I can say to resume this review is that this second DECOMPOSED demo is much better than the debut, the band progressed a lot, I really like it and I’m sure it will appeal to all those who’re into really archaic, death / doom demos.
Best song: “Infectious Growth”
Final rate: 75/100


The Funeral Obsession (12’EP 1992 – THE RECORD LABEL)
Recorded: Recorded in January, 6th, 1992 at RHYTHM Studios, with Paul Johnson and DECOMPOSED. Engineered by Paul Johnson.
Recording line up: James Ogawa – guitar, Harry Armstrong – bass / vocals, Pete Shasdell - guitar and Tim Spear – drums
Arghhhhh!!!!! What a progression, what a killer production!!!! These were my first words, after I’ve played this piece of 12” vinyl for the first time – big fuckin “WOW!!!” came out from my throat. Honestly it all sounds almost like a different band; nothing like DECOMPOSED from the demos when they had that harsh production and pretty primitive feeling of the music. I mean this EP was recorded only one year since “Ego Sum Lex Mundi” – demo which I actually like a lot… but since then DECOMPOSED made a huge step forward. And damn impressive one also. Of course the basics for the music are pretty much unchanged; since the previous demo DECOMPOSED combined slow, doomy heaviness and death metal aggression. But on the demo all that pretty much sounded primitive and harsh; while this EP is just big step forward. The production it has (from RHYTHM Studios) is 100 % top quality; so damn brutal and energetic, but at the same time very clear and professional that it deserve to be on a full length. I absolutely love it and dare to say that I like it even more than ANATHEMA’s “Serenades” sound. Shame that this 12”LP has two songs only, as 10 minutes of such quality music is simply not enough. DECOMPOSED impressed me how much they developed their style; the ideas they put into these two songs, great riffs and wonderful, sorrowful melodies and solos… all these things are just damn excellent. And the vocals! Harry Armstrong sounds like a beast and did amazing job here. I absolutely love “At Rest”, the opening track. It starts with almost two minutes long instrumental part, which shreds like BENEDICTION. After that the slow, massively heavy riff pops in, with a trace of melody… and that sounds killer. The mood was shifted quite easily, especially when at the end it becomes quite melancholic and sorrowful, but the leads and melodies they play then are excellent! “Spawn of Maternal Cadaver” is again damn strong song, but slightly different I guess. It’s actually bit more brutal and faster, sometimes reminding me the Swedish death metal style!!! That uncompromising riffing change at 2:30, when brilliant melody overtakes it and one damn headbanger’s friendly, mid paced riff explodes! Uhhh, I’m delighted by these two tracks, honestly. I don’t know what stops me from giving “The Funeral Obsession” a perfect 100 score; it definitely deserves it, but I guess I could only be disappointed by the fact that this 12” ends after 10 minutes and two songs only. What a fuckin’ shame, really! Anyway, I must recommend this vinyl to every death metal freak; anyone who’s into the bands from the early 90’s especially, as this EP is definitely one of the best things ever to appear from the British shore. Luckily this wasn’t the final word from DECOMPOSED, as they successfully carried on their doom / death metal art on “Hope Finally Dies” album. But this EP… Well, in my opinion it’s one of the best EPs ever!!! Fantastic music, great front cover and that weird band picture in the back cover… What else do you need?
Best song: “At Rest”
Final rate: 97/100


Hope Finally Died... (LP 1992 – CANDLELIGHT Productions)
Recorded: Recorded at RHYTHM Studios, Bidford-on-Avon 19th-25th April 1993. Produced on 3d-7th May 1993 by Paul Johnson. All music by DECOMPOSED. All lyrics by Harry Armstrong.
Recording line up: James Ogawa – guitar, Harry Armstrong – bass / vocals, Pete Shasdell - guitar and Tim Spear – drums
I remember when I got this album first time, I haven’t expected much from it, as I though it will be yet another average death metal CD that is fine, but won’t stay in my heart for much longer. Oh, I was wrong. Nowadays I see “Hope Finally Died…” as one of the best British albums of the genre and I have no difficulty in putting it next to the “Gothic”, “Serenades”, “Turn Loose the Swans”, but also “Transcend the Rubicon” (you must admit it’s tough competition, as all these record are fantastic!). I see this DECOMPOSED debut full length as an important classic and a must for everyone, who’s into death (doom) metal! Don’t you believe me? Well, that’s your problem, but honestly this album is just amazing and killer. I’m not gonna say that “Hope Finally Died…” is 100% perfect. It’s not, as there are some minor faults – like two or three less convincing riffs (in song called “Instrumental” mostly, for which I have mixed feelings) or the boring front cover. But 95 % of the album is just spotless. I love DECOMPOSED songwriting, where they blend emotions and melancholy of doom metal with the speed and aggression of death metal in excellent and unrivalled way. Each song has something tremendous to offer, but what I like about DECOMPOSED most is how well and smoothly they move from one sorrowful part to brutal and neckbreaking riff. Even if you’re not into slow and mournful doom metal, this album may be an answer, as it’s not so slow all the way through and has plenty of energy and vital aggression to please everyone, also those, who’re into more brutal death metal pieces. “At Rest” (song that first appeared on the EP 1992) again proves to be a real doom / death anthem – this is definitely the best tune this band ever written in my opinion!  I just love the riffs and melodies from it and everything it brings, so damn perfect anthem that is! Then there’s such track as “Taste the Dying”, which fits more to the death metal stylistics of BENEDICTION than ANATHEMA, as its opening theme is just classic death metal smasher. Later it transforms into slower and heavier playing, but the feeling of being torn into pieces stays with you till its end. And just growl “This is my funeral...!!!!!!” and let the anger be released! I really like the way each song is composed, as many parts are just instrumental, with vocals appearing spontaneously. There’s no typical “verse / chorus” structure, but well thought and intelligent composition. I may see “Faling Apart” and “Instrumental” as slightly weaker tracks in some parts (but only in few fragments!), also the closing acoustic song “(Forever) Lying In State” is little bit pointless, but none of these fragments spoils the enjoyment of listening to “Hope Finally Died…”. The performance of each band member is also another thing I must point out. I think that both guitarists are just excellent and their way of playing is very expressive and almost moving – in the parts where the melodies, harmonies and wonderful leads step out they show some amazing skills and great ability to create specific atmosphere. The drummer is also great – pity I can hardly hear the bassist. As for the vocals, Harry Armstrong (unlike the vocalists of the great British doom metal trinity) concentrates on guttural voice only, without much emotions or experiments, what some of you may find as boring, but I have nothing against it. I like it the way it is and can’t even imagine “Hope Finally Died…” with clean vocals. Finally the production reminds me what BENEDICTION sounded like, which is great and very typical for the British scene. But as I already said, the music is just killer and I can’t really understand why the hell DECOMPOSED perished so soon and the album remained likely noticed by the underground. I may understand that the great doom metal trinity from UK had better labels behind them, and so their albums were better promoted with many tours, etc, but really – “Hope Finally Died…” deserves something more. I hope someone will re-release it one day and remind it to the maniacs! It won’t be forgotten!
Best song: “At Rest”, “Taste the Dying”
Final rate: 95/100

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