Perfect Sound Forever


By Carlos M. Pozo of angbase (February 1998)


The Earache label in the late '80's and early '90's consolidated the worldwide Death/Grindcore Metal movement into one cohesive whole for a stream of 99 totally classic records reaching its peak with Bolt Thrower's IV Crusade, Carcass' Necroticism, Entombed's Clandestine and Cathedral's Ethereal Mirror (all released 1991-93 with 1992 being an especially fine year) until devolving into a morass of faceless releases of mediocre-to-bad hardcore, "industrial" and "techno." The grand announcement (in early 1997) that Earache had just signed the band led by Prodigy's GUITAR player is just about the final nail in this once mighty label's coffin. Regardless of your feelings about Death Metal (or Metal for that matter), flagship Napalm Death alone through it's branching out into Godflesh, Carcass, Cathedral, and Scorn have exerted an inmeasurable amount of influence in the world of powerful and extreme loud musics of all genres.


Earache Records always had the coolest logo- spiky and vaguely hardcore-ish like an over-xeroxed photograph, yet streamlined in a superstar Metal way, it holds all these releases together as a symbol of goofball extremity and pseudo-satanic biker tatoo dread. Emerging out of the "crossover" phase of hardcore punk, when the long-hair fury and velocity of speed metal started to seem most attractive to scuzzy punk bands, Earache's first batch of releases set up the Napalm Death dynasty and its first diversion into Unseen Terror and Carcass. Morbid Angel comes in soon after with its trend-setting Altars of Madness album as Earache starts scouring the globe for extreme stupidity of all types, and lands in Tampa Florida's Morrisound studios, the vatican of moronic metal. Next stop is Sweden, as Entombed's Left Hand Path sounds the opening shot of the Scandinavian metal onslaught that still hasn't abated. Add the mighty Bolt Thrower to the mix and the lineup is untouchable. In the early nineties no one was louder, faster or dumber than Earache's roster. Besides, their CD's usually have the lyrics printed, and even if you take Carcass out, Earache's lyrics can't be topped for creative language mangling and confusion.

Equivalent to the craze for obscure reissues of forgotten heavy progressive rock bands of the seventies, the sound of Grindcore is an acquired taste that is informed by irony and camp as much as pure adulation of distorted guitar power and lyrical insanity. Listening to Morbid Angel's "Altars of Madnes" leaves me with the same feeling of self-loathing I get when I listen to my Buffalo or Flower Travelling Band reissues. Sure I enjoy them, but the half of my brain that has actually grown into adulthood can't conceive of the possibilty that this music might be enjoyable. This could lead to some misunderstandings, especially since Metal fans are notoriously thin-skinned. Just because I find Morbid Angel ridiculous does not mean I don't "like" them. Death Metal and Grindcore to me (and I view this as a matter of personal opinion) are one and the same- ONE genre only, not two distinct ones. I should note that in interviews all of these bands express their dissatisfaction with being labeled by these genre names.

Earache Records however, never had any misgivings about exploiting these labels- witness the "MOSH" designation and the title of their first compilation: Grindcrusher. Grindcore can best be summed up as the visceral endpoint of a search for power and speed various contingents of eternally adolescent rock and roll groups have been striving for since the early 60's. Signatures of grindcore include the crunching guitar sound, which is basically the type of thing Tony Iommi was getting out of his guitar in the early seventies, the 1000mph "blast beats" which derive presumably from hardcore punk, and a general tendency for drummers to throw mini temper tantrums in the middle of every song, and finally and perhaps most importantly, the vomiting "cookie monster" vocals, which in addition to sounding like that unforgettable Sesame Street character probably derive most from Motorhead's Lemmy's croaking voice. If there's any doubt as to whether a band is grindcore or not, I would have to say that the cookie monster voice is perhaps the ultimate test. Add to that list the overpowering feedback and distortion that cake every (good) grindcore recording. The Earache English variety of grindcore is a special breed. Allegiance to a genre, so entrenched in the U.S. is very fluid in England, always the victim of trends both homegrown and imported. Napalm Death and Carcass where never Death Metal in the sense that proud Americans Obituary, Death, or Autopsy (all of whom predate Napalm Death) were. Napalm Death (the original line-up) and Carcass were making extreme music in the style of these bands but with their own conceptual/ironic twist, with no intention of purely existing as head bangers.

In a live setting, grindcore is reduced to stop-start athletic speed-drummming and painfully loud waves of feedback- which explains why Masami Akita (Merzbow), a former drummer has (or at least had) such a fondness for the genre and its trademark overdriven distortion-pedal sound. On record, Earache's take on grindcore spotlighted three star producers: Tom Morris/Scott Burns of Tampa's Morrisound studios and their work with Morbid Angel, Nocturnus, Massacre and even Napalm Death's Harmony Corruption, Thomas Skogsberg and Sunlight Studios in Stockholm for all the Entombed records, and Englishman Colin Richardson, on Carcass, Bolt Thrower, and later Napalm Death and Brutal Truth. The Morris and Burns produced discs are the least feedback deranged- sounds are separated and distinct (relatively speaking) as if intended for a more regular speed-metal sound. Thomas Skogsberg gets the most incredible dirty guitar sound out of all the bands he produces- it sounds like low-pitch fuzzy dentist's drill. Colin Richardson's productions emphasize the "groove"- best exemplified by the interlocking drum/riff monstrosities of Bolt Thrower and Necroticism-era Carcass. It is a safe bet to say that any grind record with any of these guys on the boards is usually "better" than most.

The first deviation from Grindcore in the Earache list of releases is probably MOSH 15 Godflesh's Streetcleaner, which is more of an industrial variation on the themes of grind (barf vocals and metal riffs) with the two (then) shocking additions of mechanized beats and super-slow motion rhythms. The mechanized beats on Earache were further explored by Mighty Force, Scorn, Pitchshifter, Meathook Seed and countless other later releases. The super-slow motion rhythms lead us into the "Doom" groups (Cathedral, Confessor, Sleep). A band like Fudge Tunnel could arguably be placed somewhere in the middle of those two camps, as they evoke the machine beats of hip-hop in their pseudo-funky dirges as well as the bass-heavy sludge of Doom. John Zorn's Naked City (MOSH 28) and later Painkiller are absolute anomalies on the label and discussion of their merits belong in a Zorn feature. Some people might say that the Naked City LP is the "best" thing Earache ever released, but this article seeks to discuss the "Earache sound" more than anything and therefore I leave them out. Still, I managed to comment on MOSH 45 Guts Of A Virgin.
Maybe- but probably not. Anal Cunt, perhaps the "ultimate" development of the grindcore sound with their "nothing but the blast-beat" approach are still on Earache. New-ish and very young bands like Cryptopsy and Kataklysm (both from Canada and with an intricate and speedy all-out demolititon attack) are as good (or at least as heavy/loud/fast/anal) if not better than many of the old Earache acts. Japan's Catasexual Urge Motivation is another just-as-good recent group whose drum machine sound owes as much to Carcass as it does to Godflesh. Brutal Truth, though no longer on Earache, continue to release quality grindcore records. Brutal Truth and Kataklysm have albums out on the American Relapse label. Napalm Death still tours the world relentlessly and puts out an album a year, most of them no better or worse than all of their post-Harmony Corruption output- Earache has not given up on them yet.
So here it is: the first 99 Earache releases with a blow-by-blow account of its highs and lows following below. It should perhaps be noted that there is a bit of chronological discrepancy between MOSH catalog number and release date. Date listed after each release is usually the copyright date that appears on the CD. Many of these titles are out of print, and some have never been available outside the U.K., but it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that you could find half of these titles at any well-stocked used CD store. In the bargain bin, probably. The albums on this list that were released in the US were licensed variably through Combat/Relativity without the cute little "MOSH" catalog numbers- this has been restored in the recent Earache USA reissues. My allegiance should be made clear- Entombed, Carcass and Bolt Thrower can do no wrong- I can honestly say I enjoy everything they've done with almost no exception right up to the present day. Black Sabbath are gods any way you look at it, and any band that ressembles them is better than most from the start, hence my attachment to "Doom" and Cathedral, Sleep and Confessor. Napalm Death were fine when they started out, then got progressively worse. Their records always sound cheap and tossed off no matter how much money they spend and who is producing them. Even the mighty Colin Richardson couldn't fix their sound. Godflesh are the most over-rated band on the Earache roster- still, having said that, all their albums up to the present day have some simply amazing heavy moments. I'll take them over Napalm Death any day.

Napalm Death

MOSH 3 Napalm Death Scum (1987)
Personnel-wise first you get Nick Bullen and Justin Broadrick with Mick Harris. Then you get Nick Bullen and Mick Harris with Bill Steer and Lee Dorrian. Then you get Mick Harris, Bill Steer, Lee Dorrian and Jim Whitley. So this is like some sort of "Oceans' Eleven" for the English Grind-Pack. The seeds of Carcass, Godflesh, Cathedral and Scorn are all here. Needless to say this is a pretty historic release. At the time they were thought of as possibly the worst band in the world, but now they merely remind of the first DRI EP, spiky haired Brit-punks like Chaos U.K. or a pre-teen Celtic Frost/Discharge/Venom cover-band recorded on a boombox. Vaguely sincere slogans, trash can drums, out of control "rhythms," guitars worthy of the Shaggs. It's like a giant temper tantrum. The music reflects the cover's collaged drawing- very messy and obssessively detailed. Pretty funny and pretty cool.

MOSH 4 Unseen Terror Human Error (1987)
Unlike Napalm's Scum this is purposely humorous and therefore pretty awful buzzing tinny crap. One thing to remember about Metal of all types: If it is supposed to be funny 9 times out of 10 it is definitely neither worth listening to or humorous. Shane Embury would later join Napalm Death. Mick Harris is here too. Songs about Garfield? Yeah this is pathetic, and although "Classic" (I still own it/play it after all) is definitely one of the "worst" ever Earache releases with some really uninspired cover artwork. Band photo provides clues to the origins of grindcore- they sport Venom and Crumbsuckers paraphernalia and in the back you can read Corrosion of Conformity, Suicidal Tendencies and Death postings.

MOSH 6 Carcass Reek Of Putrefaction (1988)
Masterful debut from Bill Steer's post Napalm group. It's interesting to note how dissatisfied they are (and were even back then) with the recording of this. The most recent reissue CD's credits say "Initially recorded and ruined by Mike 'it up wrongly' Ivory." Carcass always seemed extremely proud of their appeal to the non-Metal crowd-yet they slowly devolved into a fist-pumping straight metal band (with vomit vocals) churning out recycled Thin Lizzy and U.F.O. riffs. Did it ever occur to them that the muddy blur of sound on their first album is what the non-metal crowd found most appealing? The NWOBHM/Venom metal riffs are already here in the intros to just about every song, but those retching demon vocals drown any sense of metal musicality you might hope for as each song melts into massive hairballs of distortion. The death metal crowd loved them, though, especially as they grew more "technical," even gaining support from the mainstream metal press with Heartwork and staying on the good side of the underground crowd that accused Entombed of selling out with Wolverine Blues. Their gore-worshipping artwork (too gruesome to reissue on CD as it first appeared on the LP) and their extended incomprehensible song titles/lyrics have influenced many in the death metal, grindcore, industrial and noise world. Here's a sample of their lyrical skills:
Parasitic carnivorous carrion, your gastrointestinal tract, your prey's cremator
Bloody neo-cannibalistic, bloodfeed masticator
Rigor sanguined fleshfeast, gourging on festered entrails and warm meat
Devouring cold offal, necro-sentient mortis feed

Or how about:

Mucopurulent organs digested in sepsis
Mucolysifying, rancidifying as you eat your own cysts
Putrefying your pyorrhoea - infested corpse excretes away
Expelling pyuria and septic goitrous membrane

MOSH 8 Napalm Death From Enslavement To Obliteration (1988)

Shane Embury jumps in on bass to solidify the Harris-Steer-Dorrian lineup for merely 27 more ditties of, er, enslavement and obliteration. Embury is still hanging in there to this day amazingly enough. This flows seamlessly out of the last tracks on Scum- recording quality, band interplay and vocals are no better and no worse than on the debut. Best song title: "Cock-Rock Alienation" which is a heavy handed attack on the glam trappings of rock'n'roll stardom that lyrically provides more cock-rock alienation than the average hair-metal band's output. Earache packaged this LP and Scum into one (UK only) CD for an unbeatable package: 55 tracks in 54 minutes.

MOSH 11 Morbid Angel Altars Of Madness (1989)
Looking like they got lost on the way to a Monsters of Rock Halloween party these satanic clowns never made a better album than this. Quite possibly the best to come out of Morrisound (along with Monstrosity's Imperial Doom on Nuclear Blast) this creepy excursion into the minds of barely grown men grasping onto their pre-adolescence is a masterpiece of spastic metal. Their cod-piece collection might have gotten more interesting over the years but their music hasn't. Put this up against Merzbow's (roughly contemporaneous) Batz-Tou-tai and see which clears the room fastest. I've always disliked the drum sounds on Morrisound's product but Pete Sandoval, one of the many competing "fastest drummer in the world" title-holders, surmounts weak sonics with sheer insane speed. Fine detailed color cover artwork by Dan Seagrave, whose artwork would also grace Entombed and Nocturnus and many other Earache releases. Dan's style can best be compared to the sort of naive demon warrior pencil drawings you used to find on the margins of high school text books. Except Dan has the patience to fill a large area of his drawings with fine intricate anal retentive detail. This album also adds to the Earache roster another Grindcore trademark- apparently sincere non-ironic satanism. Lyrical highlights include incantation of demons in an alien Lovecraftian tongue, and much Christian-bashing. "Killer."

MOSH 12 Grindcrusher Compilation (1989)
A genre-defining compilation. All the Earache luminaries are here plus assorted related bands. Unlike most of the Earche LP's of this era (especially MOSH 11 and 13) the artwork on this does not scream "metal" in any way- mostly it makes me think of Big Black's big font fetish (the Racer X EP especially) but with a more dayglo palette. Without the dungeons and demons imagery this release more than any other introduces "grindcore" as a genre onto itself, beyond Metal, beyond Hardcore, beyond Industrial, beyond music- completely alien, drug-fueled, mechanical, brutal and uncompromising, a true sound for its age. If you can only buy one Earache album...

MOSH 13 Bolt Thrower Realm Of Chaos (1989)
The second release from a band that found their style on their first album (not on Earache- this is their second) and stuck to it. From here on out their albums just get heavier, louder and better produced. Their music derives more purely from hardcore: slow crushing Iommi-ish opening riff, everything stops, hit the cymbals a couple of times, and blast off. A formula Black Flag had already perfected by 1980. Everything else is pure Metal, from the war obsessed lyrics to their artwork, for this release produced by Games Workshop, a Dungeons and Dragons type outfit but with a sci-fi scope- very nice it is too. If I was thirteen again this is the metal band I would have hoped existed, instead of Krokus and Dokken. Andy Whale is a truly exceptional and distinctive drummer, not flashy or particularly speedy, but executes everything with deadly precision, and his blast beats are instantly recognizable as his own. Vocalist Karl Willets is also noteworthy, less vomit-ish and more understandable, reminiscent (to my ears anyhow) of the narrator's voice in THE ROAD WARRIOR. Oddly enough, both drummer and vocalist left the band after releasing the one album (MOSH 120 For Victory) that saw them reinventing and in many ways improving their sound. Pointless trivia: the only band on the Earache roster with a female member- Jo Bench on bass.

MOSH 15 Godflesh Streetcleaner (1989)
Barfing vocals appear on this second album from Justin Broadrick's group, and no one did them better than Godflesh. Drum machines in a metal context work best when they are slowed down- and some of the rhythms here are unbelievably sludgy and claustrophobic. Nothing compares except Swans' Cop LP- but they had a real drummer that slightly humanized and warmed (so to speak) their sound. Everything you could hope for in a mechanized death metal noise-rock fusion can be found on this release. Could have been culled down to half the album's length, for a total masterpiece of gloomy icy atmosphere. As it is, it's just exhausting and more than a little boring after repeated listens. Inspired countless imitators (Earache even signed one of them- Pitchshifter) who just don't measure up to the nasty inhuman vibe of this and scattered parts of Godflesh's successive career.

MOSH 18 Carcass Symphonies Of Sickness (1989)

Not necessarily better than their debut but slightly cleaner recording adds power and dynamics. Some monstrous air-guitar riffs here. A Carcass trademark, also present in their debut is the titling of the guitar solos that inevitably interrupt each great riff. Some choice examples:
(Solo: Rectal incubation with intolerable hot enema)
(Solo: parturient paste sandwich)
(Solo: Intumescence of pulverized piles)
MOSH 19 Napalm Death Harmony Corruption (1990)
Our boys go to Florida to catch some sudio tan at Morrisound and make the muddiest recordings ever to come out of Tampa. Embury and Harris are the only leftovers from their previous LP- newcomers include Americans Mitch Harris and Jesse Pintado on guitars as well as Englishman Barney Greenway on roaring barf vocals. Songs become long (epic length by their previous standards) convoluted Tampa flavored affairs. Shane Embury sports a "Young Gods" T-shirt in the band photo (which has them looking very glue-sniffing short pants All-American) showing his acceptance of alternative lifestyles and sampler technology. Sampler technology figures greatly in the decline of the Earache empire as Mosh 100 to 200 document. Greenway's Godzilla roar is some sort of pinnacle for grindcore vocals- his voice sounds slowed down and impossibly low-balled and growly. Forced Exposure magazine reviewed this (in 1993- way after the fact) by listing some highlights of the band's incredibly detailed "thank you" list in the liner notes- a death metal trademark for some reason. Well, why fuck with a good gag:
"...Max and Sepultra...also thanx to everyone I met in Brazil (the best)...Sepultra and their crew and friends- thanx for having us down! Brazil was mental! More shows are in order- see ya soon'n shit...All the Grind freaks in Brazil- what a doss! Everyone we partied with in Sao Paulo...Everyone involved with our trip to Brazil...(totally chuffed)...My parents for loaning me flight money..."
This extract is about 25% of what FE quoted- the actual thank you lists (and every member gets to write his own) are so unbelievably long and repetitive (count the times "doss" and "chuffed" are used) they must be read in full to be believed.

MOSH 20 Godflesh Godflesh (1990)
Godflesh's first album from 1988, reissued on Earache. More Killing Joke-reverential, and less cartoony-metallic riffs than on Streetcleaner, as well as the shockingly clean vocals they would later return to on Selfless. Somewhere between Big Black, Swans, Head of David, and, say the gothic self-pitying air of Joy Division? Not essential but good.

MOSH 21 Entombed Left Hand Path (1990)
The Sunlight Studios sound as birthed by the amazing Thomas Skogsberg and the equally amazing Entombed. Along with Morbid Angel, Entombed are the best of the non-Napalm Death descended straight death metal Earache acts. Influenced heavily by Celtic Frost, Venom, and to a lesser extent Slayer and American hardcore, these guys always had a Rock and Roll swagger that made them more musical and competent than most of their other fellow Death Metallers. The death metal spasms are still here though, and the gurgling vocals are as low as they ever got in the genre. Producer Thomas Skogsberg is the star- especially handling the dirty power drill fuzzy rhythm guitar that became the signature of the "Sunlight Sound." But everything shines: the best ever drum sounds, never tinny or synthetic like Morrisound. The songs are always basically simple, never completely dissolving into the sub-Malmsteen doodling that Morbid Angel falls into, always focusing on power and rhythm, constantly pushing forward to pummel the listener.

MOSH 23 Nocturnus The Key (1991)
Florida "space" Death from an early member of Morbid Angel who still sports his Randy Rhoads haircut and who should have known better. Basically a Florida/Morbid Angel sound with bits of swooshing synths that sound more embarassing than futuristic. Yes, they are the kings of satanic space-death-metal. And hopefully no one will ever try to emulate them. Prototypical tinny Morrisound production with doodling leads flying off into the distance after every grunted verse. One of the best Dan Seagrave covers graces this LP- nice pentagrams-in-space theme. Very obssessively detailed and very appropriate for this band. Some "fine" lyrics:
Cybernetic crafts approaching
through skies lit with fusion discharge
androids from the Gamma quadrant
moving at the speed of death

Add to that a rape/eat fantasy told from the point of view of the undead, a homicidal/sci-fi/time travel fantasy about killing Christ in the manger and assorted futuristic/demon worshipping odes and you have a masterpiece of family entertainment.

See Part 2 of the Earache Story

Also see a response from Jon Paris of Earache Records