Years of Decay: 1997

18 min read

In a so diverse decade, when so much genres and sub-genres rose and fell, 1997 delivered probably the last big shot of great records released in the 90s. The outside influences were taking over the heavy music from all sides – techno, beats, electronic samples, DJs, hip-hop… And the new wave of nu-bands and modern punk posing who were solidly appearing, striving for commercial success, following the most popular MTV examples…Nothing would ever be the same again though. It was the threshold of a huge change. Some might call it a plague, from which the wounds began to heal just in 2016-2018. 

Despite of everything, 1997 delivered some fantastic releases, which will stay in time forever. We picked few of them, but all of us had at least three-four albums willing to leave here. Albums which left their mark solidly on the BAZ team. Albums which turned our world upside down in one or another way.

Enjoy our tiny selection and most of all – enjoy your Sunday!

SAVATAGE – “Wake of Magellan”
9/1997 Europe (Concrete/Edel)/ Japan (JVC Victor) 4/1998 US (Lava/Atlantic)

“Wake of Magellan” marks the tenth studio album released by the American heavy metal band, SAVATAGE. Officially released on September 15th 1997 in Europe and Japan, to positive reviews, the album was finally released about seven months later to the US market, on April 7th the following year, 1998, as an extended edition containing three additional tracks. read more

The material on the “Wake of Magellan” sums up into a terrific concept album, based on two real life events that took place roughly a year before its release. The first event that made its way into the compositions was the Maersk Dubai incident that took place in 1996 aboard the Taiwanese container ship Maersk Dubai, where three Romanian stowaways were forced overboard, at knifepoint by the ship’s captain and officers, and left to die in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. The second event penned into music by the prolific songwriting duo of Jon Oliva and rock producer, Paul O’Neill, also tragically took place in 1996, surrounding the assassination of Irish crime reporter, Veronica Guerin, fatally shot by drug gang members on the outskirts of Dublin, after previous attempts on her life were made by members of the organized crime, whom she was investigating. These two events were combined into an abstract story about an old Spanish sailor, who was ready to end his life by sailing alone into the ocean, in an old Viking tradition. After battling a storm and most importantly, relentless soul-searching leading to changes in life perspective, the old sailor saves a stowaway and makes his way back to the shore, selfrealizing that not only every life is precious but also every hour of that life.

The theatrically composed and arranged album was the last SAVATAGE release with vocalist Zak Stevens, amiably parting ways in 2000 due to personal reasons, after four studio and one live album, but remaining part of the band’s extend family, continuing to collaborate on Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums, among other things. The highly melodic concept album of boundless melodies, intricate arrangements and splendid solos, all greatly fitting the storyline, centers around Jon Oliva’s masterful keyboards work and the extraordinary guitar duo of Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli, with the band remaining, as Martin Popoff describes as, “king of piano-to-riff dynamic”! The thirteen tracks, grandiosely written album is completed on the US release by three additional, bonus songs (bringing the length of the album to about seventy-two minutes) – further surprising the listeners with their gracious simplicity: elegant vocals with resonating piano and acoustic guitar accompaniments – a grand finale to an already resplendent album.

Highly recommended to whomever, somehow have missed this brilliant release at the end of the 90s, and to all fans of quality music. You’re in for an epic surprise! Emil/UHF


Used by permission. © 2018 by Emil Chiru / UHF

HECATE ENTHRONED – ‘The Slaughter Of Innocence”
October 1997, Blackend

Ah, 1997 – what a glorious year for metal. Yeah, it’s very easy to say that some 21 years later, because hindsight is a beautiful thing when it’s viewed with rose tinted glasses. It’s also very easy to become an instant expert nowadays, when one has the internet on everything including their toaster –  whilst future boy with his handheld touch screen twit machine is quick to real off “facts” from that particular year, when back in 1997 he was a twinkle in his father’s groin and unable to back those facts with “lived in” primary evidence. read more

For those who were in their late teens and early 20s at that point, the late 1990s was actually one of metal’s darkest and turbulent times. Bands imploded, or change styles to chase the zeitgeist of baggy trousers and down tuned strings so saggy they hung below their ball sacks – combined with pointless rap vocals and backward worn caps. Most of the magazines chased that zeitgest too, deliberately snubbing and downvoting actual talent to steer the bovine metal masses towards a supposedly 7 stringed, lead solo shunning, bass rumbling, turntable lead brighter future.

Hecate Enthroned released their best album yet with ‘The Slaughter Of Innocence”, having come across in leaps and bounds since their debut album ‘Upon Promethian Shores’. However, in the cloth eared minds of some people they will always be remembered as low rent Cradle of Filth copyists. Granted, at a very early point in the band they had one band member join them for what seemed like five minutes, and then return – that’s where the association should end. The album is known for its crisp and precise production by Andy Sneap, which added a real sense of symphonic black metal drama to tracks such as “Christfire” which drew a real sense of foreboding and bleakness, sounding almost like nothing else of the time. Amongst the highly charged ferocity, “The Spell of the Winter Forest” adds further dynamics and huge chunks of atmosphere beginning with acoustic guitar, piano, and growled poetry before leading into pummelling kick drums and a wall of icy guitars. “Within The Ruins of Eden” is so perfectly executed that in a parallel universe where black metal is king, it would probably make a mini 3 track EP that would be hugely popular. Along with “Enthroned Darkness Triumphant” by Dimmu Borgir, and Emperor’s “Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk” that came out in the same year, they are a veritable triumvirate of black metal perfection the likes of which extreme metal fans will probably never see again. Maybe, 1997 wasn’t so bad after all?  Goth Mark

HELHEIM – “Av Norrøn Ætt”
Solistitium Records

My pick for a 1997 album is the recorded in the legendary Grieghallen studios in January – February that year. Helheim`s second full album “Av Norrøn Ætt” with the now legendary producer “Pytten” (real name: Eirik Hundvin) 1997 was a great year for recordings in that studio; Enslaved`s Eld, Gorgoroth`s Under the Sign of Hell and Emperor`s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk where all recorded in 1997 with Pytten at the helm. And with earlier recordings with Mayhem, Immortal, Burzum, Einherjer Hades, Taake, Trelldom and Old Funeral, Grieghallen was the place to record Norwegian Black Metal. read more

Helheim was back in this studio; their first album was also recorded there. With a greater experience and clearly raising the bar in terms of ambitions, they set off to record a more challenging record this time around. The trio then 5 years into their career recording 55 minutes of Black/ Viking Metal, recording an album that still is a milestone of the genre more than 20 years later. The album is at times somewhat progressive and absolutely not “around the campfire sing along” Viking kind of metal. In hindsight I think this album have more in common with the Black Metal releases of the time in Norway, than the more “Norse” approach done by Einherjer & Enslaved at the same time. Even if Helheim share the ideology with them as appose to the grimmer approach of their contemporaries identifying themselves as Satanists. That said, violin by Haldis and Belinda on trumpet and soprano,  sure makes the album stand out. Epic is sometimes considered a “dirty” word in metal, but F*ck, this album is EPIC! Listen to “Mørk Evig Vinter” (Dark Eternal winter), 9 minutes of true art.

Helheim is a criminally underrated band, this album is underrated, and just shows that quality in music doesn`t always get the deserved attention. To single out one track is like choosing a favorite child, but hands down: “Åpenbaringens Natt” (Night of Revelation) is way up there on my greatest tracks of all times. Harald

Track list:
«En forgangen tid»
«Fra ginnunga-gap til evig tid»
«Mørk, evig vinter»
«Åpenbaringens natt»
«De eteriske åndevesenes skumringsdans»
«Av norrøn ætt»

DEVIN TOWNSEND – “Ocean Machine”
July 1997, HevyDevy

Like most, I first came across Devin Townsend when he was fronting Steve Vai’s band on his Sex & Religion album. The next thing I know, I’m looking at a really heavy thing called Strapping Young Lad, in particular February 1997 and the colossal ‘City’ album. Then, as strange as it was at the time, five months later Devin releases this ‘other’ project thing called Ocean Machine: Biomech. SYL was in fact, intended as a parody but as we all know, with the help of Century Media it turned into an unstoppable, all metal commanding, all-consuming metal monster that almost ended up killing the guy! read more

History now tells us that it’s Ocean Machine that was really at the core of Devin’s heart. Musically and thematically Ocean Machine is the defining album that serves as the bedrock for all that would come from The Devin Townsend Band/project moving forward. I love everything about this record. From the layered, dense production; the upbeat and driving melodic hard rock elements (Life, Night, Hide Nowhere and Seventh Wave) to the darker, emotively stark atmospherics captured on Regulator, Bastard, Funeral and the simply astounding ‘The Death of Music’. But really, the whole thing has to be heard from beginning to end – a majestic beast, Ocean Machine is a seamless combination of straight forward hard rock, progressive experimentation, dark ambient interludes and emotively driven song writing. Deserving of another 1000 word dissertation which I have no time for – Simply put, it is one of the greatest albums I own. KMaN

Recorded September 1996 – December 1996
Genre Progressive metal, hard rock
Length     73:52
Producer: Devin Townsend
Favorite tracks: The Death of Music, Life, Hide Nowhere, Night, Funeral.

SADISTIC INTENT – “Ancient Black Earth” EP
1997, Dark Realm Records

By the late nineties I was more at odds with the metal community than ever before…Perhaps conflicted as to where my preferences lie? And in reality many factions of the metal community had drown in the hair metal implosion, had tried and failed to chase Nirvana or were swept up by the explosion created by Pantera, who were far more influential than credited for. You either survived or embraced grunge, saw the significant rise of black metal and defining death metal releases all while bands from the eighties continued to record, tour, split…repeat? Power, Prog, Industrial, Stoner & Nu-Metal were all relevant, with excessive and hardly distinguishable sub-genres loaded with all the metal flavors of the day. read more

Personally my expansion into all things metal inevitably led me back to my roots; that were drenched in dark, absolutely crushing and razor sharp riffage! Searching for bands and albums that may have been overlooked or were simply unaware of at the time. The focus was deliberate and once again pointed clearly towards the black, death and thrash bands of the time. So thinking of an album that really caught ones imagination or made an impact on me at the time led me to an EP that was simply Evil and Sadistic!

The release of Sadistic Intent’s “Ancient Black Earth” EP came three years after the bands directional change on the fantastical EP “Resurrection,” moving Bay Cortez to the Lead Vocals role. These two releases becoming the highlights of Los Angeles’ kings of the underground! The switch to Bay Cortez on vocals added an even darker and desperate sound to the already intense material. The band active since the late eighties had released several Demos and EP’s to this point with a tremendous underground appeal, but never advanced to the next tier of the Death Metal pyramid, despite clearly being both relevant and extremely revered by fan and bands alike. Already having toured at times with the likes of Morbid Angel, Entombed, Unleashed and many others since the early nineties Sadistic Intent could not make the leap due to a myriad of obstacles and self-inflicted decisions so it seemed. So enough with romanticizing about the nineties, let’s dive into the short, three track, sixteen and a half minute EP that caught our attention.

The change to Bay on vocals for “Resurrection” seemed to be well received by all. With a new drummer in tow for “Ancient Black Earth” the band seemed poised to push the envelope even further with they’re playing style and song structures. Don’t be fooled however as this was no new experiment, it was still purely dark and rooted in evil! Untimely End was the opening track which was like an upper cut to the jaw with it’s hammering salvo of twin guitars led by Rick Cortez and Bay’s guttural screams and growls. Brutality and suffering seemed to be the topic at hand as the lyrics delve into terror, dismay and an agonizing and Untimely End! The title track comes next with its sermon like delivery preparing the congregation for its inevitable meeting with the horde of fiends from beyond. The Ancient Dead rising to wage war on a selfish mankind, an outbreak of evil has been summoned to cleanse all…An awesome fucking track! The last song was Funerals Obscure which featured disparate riffs and structures giving it its own identity, yet continues the listener down this path of ultimate terror and haunting tales of death and destruction. One of my favorite Death Metal Demos or EP’s from this period… 

~ Born of the dark, the incubus grows, reality is lost and the struggle unfolds!

If you live in the Los Angeles area or just happen to be in town for a visit, be sure to make some time and head to Downey where you may just find the Cortez brothers at their own Extreme Metal record store Dark Realm Records!

EDGE OF SANITY – “Infernal”
February 1997, Black Mark

“Infernal” is probably the most overlooked Edge of Sanity album under the classic line-up period. We all know the cult underground status of Dan Swanö, and that tones of stuff appeared in DM underground in the first half of 90s on the Scandinavian scene just because of him (something which Peter Tägtgren was in the second half of 90s). Maybe is less known by few that Adreas Axelsson (Dread), the other leader in Edge of Sanity, has been also connected to a lot of bands too. Just the musical differences and approaches of both men led to ruin of one of the best ever death metal bands known to this date – the almighty Edge of Sanity. read more

“Infernal” is the swansong, the final draw in the magnificent discography and heritage the band left between 1989 and 1997. (yes, few more active years in vain after 1997 with different line up…). Released on 5 February 1997 under the cult Black Mark label, it is a absolutely gorgeous album containing the best of everything Edge of Sanity has ever created – death metal, melody, black metal parts, growling hellish vocals, and that clean progressive parts and vocals so typical for Swanö’s new path. The album is dedicated to the long friend and band’s guitarist – Sami Nerberg, who couldn’t take part in the recording of “Infernal”.

There is a fantastic variety in rhythm and tempo. The album is built in certain way. Anthemic tracks one after another, with specific order – one heavier/faster and one more progressive. All the compositions clicked solidly with me since the very first moment I bought the album in March 1997. 21 and half years later, it is band’s most played album by me, despite of my love for the gorgeous “Spectral Sorrows”, which actually brought me to the band when I bought it in early 1994. Every album EoS released after has always been part of my childhood till now.

I can talk about each and every song in “Infernal”, dissect it, describe it…but is it possible to retell emotions in words? Emotions, memories, feelings… “Infernal” brings echos of certain period in my life and still is so contemporary. It’s music is forever  – “Infernal” is not lost even a hair of its gorgeousness, the sound will always be very powerful and raw. The melodies will always be so touching. It is a benchmark album. Not just because 1997 was among the final years for the true metal in the 90s and not only because is among the vary last true HM-2 Scandinavian death metal records from that whole wave. For me “Infernal” stays forever on the highest piedestal of time! Count Vlad

Together forever
In a masquerade of life and death
Forever together
The vision reached me from a dream
Together forever
Everlasting scars, soul torture
Forever together forever 

Windir – Sóknardalr
March 1997, Head Not Found

Windir was a band from Norway that sadly disappears because of the tragic death of the Frontman Valfar.
Windir was a band that released in my opinion, very good albums and “Sóknardalr” was the first one after two demos. A band that in opinion influenced many bands and will influence many more.
They had a unique way of doing music. The mix of Black / Folk / Viking Metal was amazing. Sadly they are gone. I remember the first time I heard this album after a friend of mine dubbed it in a tape. Tchhhh… I was stunned. That tape played many many many times in my tape player and also in my walkman. read more

But at the same time, and in that time, not many persons like it. Even today when sometimes I’m talking with some persons and mention the band, or they don’t know it, or they just say “I already heard a few things, but I don’t like it” or “Not my kind of Black Metal” or “I don’t like the mix they do”.
The things or in the places I read something about the band it says that was an Important band, but at the same time not many persons know them, or they just don’t remind them. Some old metalheads like me still say “Amazing band”. I like them or I love them. Windir will be a band to stay in the past? Windir will be a band that it will always remind just because of the tragic death of the Frontman? Windir will be a band that will be remembered by the quality of the music they did? I don’t know which will be. For me, Windir will be remembered by the quality. For the Unique mix, they did. For the amazing music they did. For what they influenced me. And for me is one of the best bands (that sadly are gone) Black Metal bands. The Key Keeper

Coercion – Forever Dead
July 1997, Perverted Taste

One day in the later 1990’s a friend had introduced me to a new CD called Coercion – Forever Dead. He was at an out of town concert the previous day and had stopped at well known independent record shop before the concert. Being a death metal freak like myself and noticing this CD, the guy at the record shop had highly recommended this to him. Before being shown this, I had never heard of this band either until this moment. Immediately the CD was put into the player and to my amazement, what I heard was 12 tracks of total death metal greatness! read more

While l listened to this, I looked at the cool band logo that just screamed misery and death! The front cover was a dreary scene of an autopsy table in some coroner’s environment which was quite fitting for the music I was listening to. This full-length CD by Coercion who are from Sweden didn’t have the usual “Swede” sound either. It is honest to say that there was both Euro and American influences within this but also the songs had variations of styles and tempo changes too. From one moment to the next, there could be a slow grooving riff drawing you in, to a full out blast giving it all or it could be somewhere in between. One thing for certain with this band is that they had great writing skills which are heard throughout this album. Descriptions like heavy and catchy with constant hooks, cool harmonies and top-notch soloing, definitely reigned supreme here! Not to mention this was a solid and very tight production yet was not overly polished either. It captured the sense of raw and heavy that goes with death metal but held a lot of distinction and quality punch to it as well. From this moment on, I was hooked on Coercion – Forever Dead as it combined all the right kind of ingredients for death metal that I liked and essentially made a great album overall! Lyrically, they covered topics of depression, loss, misery, and misanthropy which also appealed to me. In further I followed the band with their next releases “Delete” and their last one called “Lifework”. Coercion was active until around 2005 and even though they apparently kept writing, nothing further was released after that. The band has since split up.

Coercion – Forever Dead was truly an underrated album and I always believed it deserved more recognition in the death metal world then what was received. Perhaps, this is what separates the underground from the more known names in extreme metal? Who knows, but either way, this is and will always be a supreme death metal band and release to me. EldritchofDeath

Bruce Dickinson – Accident of Birth
May 1997, Duellist Enterprises
It’s not a secret that Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden have always hung together in a kind of tension.  I say this with the deep reverence of a long-time Maiden fan: Maiden needs Bruce.  But Bruce?  No, Bruce doesn’t need Maiden.  Polymath that he is, he probably doesn’t even need music.  I like to imagine he carries on out of a kind of heroic self-sacrifice, aware of the grief he’ll induce in us fans if he fucks off again.  The truth will be more nuanced, but this version keeps me warm at night, so here we are: let’s proceed. read more

Accident of Birth was Bruce’s fourth solo album.  Tattooed Millionaire was kind of … eh… and Balls to Picasso lacked, well, balls.  Nevertheless, there were a few standouts from this chapter in his solo career, most notably ‘Tears of the Dragon.’  On Picasso Bruce had been backed by the Southern Californian band Tribe of Gypsies and their prodigious guitarist Roy Z.  It was his contribution that really elevated the affair.  Following the commercial failure of the completely different Skunkworks project, which has a place in the heart of many fans as his most personal, honest work, Bruce was ready to give up on the music business altogether.  Enter, for a second time, Roy Z, and a well-timed phonecall where he played the opening riffs of what would become ‘Accident of Birth’ to a jaded Dickinson, who immediately penned some lyrics.  One of the finest metal albums of the 90s had just been conceived.
Bruce was taking flight again, and who better to share the experience with him than Adrian Smith, who’d left Iron Maiden before No Prayer for the Dying, appalled by its proposed stripped-down sound.  Now they could do what they flipping well wanted, and it blew all of Maiden’s 90s releases out of the water.  It’s hard to pick a highlight.  AoB isn’t a perfect record as such: in my opinion it suffers from a bit too much mid-paced groovery, and could do with being a track or two shorter, but if ‘to understand all is to forgive all,’ then really, we’ve got to let him off: years shackled to the Maiden monolith earned him this. ‘Taking the Queen’ is where things really take off, with that majestic final movement and haunting piano finish, which gives you a few seconds’ reprieve before segueing nicely into the intro to the apocalyptic ‘Darkside of Aquarius.’  Bruce is soaring, with Roy and Adrian admirably bearing him up with those chundering riffs; here, as on every track, the guys faithfully interpret Bruce’s lyrical vision into music. Roy’s psychedelic style was a perfect fit for Bruce’s topical preoccupations – the cosmos, religion, war, the occult – and on the heartbreaking ‘Man of Sorrows,’ pianist Richard Baker (Santana, Yes, Lynch Mob, and more) provides the backdrop for a meditation on the boyhood of Aleister Crowley, who, alongside William Blake, has long served on the roster of Bruce’s muses.  The title track and ‘Road to Hell’ are cut from the very best of traditional heavy metal cloth: punchy, chugging little dual-harmonied rippers.  There’s something for everyone here, which is perhaps why it has appeared on so many best-of-the-90s lists.
Suitably bolstered by the critical acclaim heaped on AoB, Bruce spread his wings wider on the follow-up, The Chemical Wedding, which was more experimental and thematically grandiose than its predecessor, and a better album as a consequence.  Dickinson’s solo career was, in the end, cut short too soon: Maiden wanted him back.  The Second Coming was ultimately what we all wanted but never thought we’d see happen.  Still, on a rainy day it’s an interesting counterfactual diversion to think about what might have been, and to relive the moment when AoB dropped, a salve for wounded and broken Maiden fan hearts everywhere. “Welcome home, it’s been too long, we’ve missed you,” indeed.  A classic.  Jordan.

Truly Yours,
Blessed Altar Zine Team