Years of Decay 1996

15 min read

1996 eh? How the hell is that 24 years ago? Well, turns out IT IS that long ago. The Internet had yet to gain a footing in most modern households, and people like myself were all “Why the hell do I need a computer? I see the damn things in work/college”. In that year, we had such mad events such as sheep cloning, I scraped through college and finally left to somehow bluff my way into becoming an office monkey for an engineering firm – a very different and weird world of grown up responsibilities and beige people whilst the friends I knew were scattered all 4 points of the compass who went to university. Nah, I had enough of lectures and coursework and wanted actual folding money. Starting afresh and making new friends because social networking had yet to exist was, for want of a better term of phrase “a total ball ache”. Also, as probably lamented before – the scene was starting to get a bit weird as nu metal started to spread through the metal world.

Enjoy our selection from 1996, and have a great Sunday.

Arch Enemy – Black Earth
December 1996 – Wrong Again Records

One of the worst things to come out of 1996, was CARCASS splitting up. Arse badgers. However, a trip to Liverpool (urgh, Christmas shopping) to visit Probe Records one weekend was something of a revelation as I looked through the CD racks and discovered a band called Arch Enemy; a handwritten informative sticker revealed they’re a melodic death metal band with a certain Mike Amott and his brother, more

I thought to myself “Well, bloody hell! I’ve got to have this!”, and excitedly handed thirteen quid over to the cashier along with the jewel case, whilst the staff opened up a large drawer to find a cardboard sleeve that contained this new shiny laser read disc of musical wonder.

Annoyingly, it was one those days where I brought out my Aiwa tape player rather than my trusty Sony Discman, and the train back home couldn’t get there quick enough. I arrived home, made a brew, and popped the CD in the player. The crunchy thrash tinged riffs of “Bury Me An Angel” are an absolute delight, Chris and Mike emitting some serious riffs with arpeggios, speed picking, the works. The mastering was more based around treble if one was to be picky (some crunchy bass would be nice), but at the time I didn’t care because ARCH ENEMY helped to fill a massive crater that was left by Carcass’ demise, which is probably my favourite band if I was forced at gun point. However, all was not lost as it turns out they reformed almost a decade later – but that’s another story.

Opeth – Morningrise
June 1996 – Candlelight Records

Ah, OPETH. Back in 1996, nobody knew who the hell Mikey Fuzzyfelt and the lads were, and as such the band was relatively unknown. To my ears, they were a strange band; almost as if the prog rock band Yes came from a strange dark universe via a wormhole in time and space, and were a blackened death metal band. There was absolutely no way this band will be massive because…Well….They were this weird extreme metal prog band that went from having shredding brutal guitar riffs and vocals akin to that of a possessed Brazilian howler monkey, to clean vocals and calm acoustic guitar moments. As a result of their super obscurity and weirdness that would never “chart”, yours truly thought they were one of the best bands of all time and loved them to death upon my introduction to them.

An interesting story in itself, because they were supporting CRADLE OF FILTH  touring their “Vempire” mini album and their hugely reborn glossy sound that we know them for today, in summer 1996 – along with one or two other bands whose name escapes me and are assumed long dead. We went on an ‘epic voyage’ in a clapped out Bedford Astramax van owned by Beavis (a friend of mine) to Bradford Rios with two other lads (Dee and Brett) piled in the bag like illegal stowaways, bombing it down the motorway trying to break the land speed record in a 1700cc diesel (think we did 110mph, allegedly) equipped with our CRADLE OF FILTH albums and Sharpie’s, hoping to meet them to get our albums signed. We did, of course – however my album remains signed with humourous graffiti scribbling out the ex-band members courtesy of Damien Gregori and Nick Barker, along with a signed flag where the signatures have sadly faded.

Goth Mark

Arcturus – Aspera Hiems Symfonia
June 1996 – Ancient Lore Creations

Aspera Hiems Symfonia” (Harsh Winter Symphony) by ARCTURUS is an album that I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy over the years, and I simply couldn’t resist selecting it for the 1996 edition of our ‘Years of Decay’ series.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar, ARCTURUS was formed in the early nineties, as a side-project by members of the Norwegian death/ black metal band MORTEM. ARCTURUS featured some notable figures from the Norwegian metal scene, such as Hellhammer (MAYHEM), Garm (ULVER, BORKNAGAR) and Sverd (ULVER COVENANT), and in 1996 they released their first full-length album “Aspera Hiems Symfonia”. This debut album is a beauty, it’s raw and gritty with just the right amount of symphonic synth and melody peppered throughout. read more

Today, “Aspera Hiems Symfonia” feels like an nice specimen of early-styled symphonic black metal and it seemed to come at an ideal time, when modern black metal was mutating and branching into its many, varied and twisted forms. Later releases from ARCTURUS moved in an increasingly unconventional and avant-garde direction, so for my personal tastes, I find this early work the most satisfying. Regretfully, I didn’t give this album the attention it deserved until at least a decade after it was released. So, if like me, this is a title that passed you by or that you’ve never bothered to commit any time to, give it a go. It’s never too late to uncover shiny metal treasures of the past.

Proua Metallist

Cryptopsy – None So Vile
July 1996 – Wrong Again Records

Back to 1996… I choose Cryptopsy. But I could choose other releases that are so good to me. Like BRUTAL TRUTH “Kill Trend Suicide”, KATAKLYSM “Temple of Knowledge (Kataklysm Part III)”, ANATHEMA “Eternity” and many others… But this album won. Lol. I got this album on my travels to the capital and doing my runs in all the disco records that I could find and had knowledge.  Many many many times I listened to this album. read more

But unfortunately, I “lost” this CD in the original pressing when my friend moved to Germany back in the beginning of the 00’s and took it as a gift from me. Hope you are fine mate.
Words about this album? Very good Brutal Technical Death Metal, one of the best releases in my opinion inside this music style. And… In my opinion too the best time of this band. Amazing solos, very good breaks, tempo changes, riffs, technical details. So good. Songs like “Slit Your Guts” the groove at the beginning of the song “Graves of the Fathers”, the beginning of the “Phobophile” song or the Traditional Death Metal start of “Orgiastic Disembowelment” are just a few examples of how this album can be so damn good. Can I call this album a classic? Yes, I can.

The Key Keeper

Hypocrisy – Abducted
February 1996 – Nuclear Blast

I’m a big fan of HYPOCRISY. I’ve been following the band since watching for the first time the “Pleasure of Molestation” video, out of “Osculum Obscenum” (1993). Then I witnessed the release of “Inferior Devoties” EP and of the almighty “The Fourth Dimension” album, both in 1994. However, I’m a HYPOCRISY worshipper mostly because of the glorious “Abducted”.  Yes, “Abducted” is the best HYPOCRISY album released.

I remember clearly when I got this album. It was just released and I bought the tape. I have already watched the “Roswell 47” video. Few songs have this same magnitude of crushing heaviness – let’s just mention BOLT THROWER‘s “The IVth Crusade” here as an example. What really made me impression was the big change in the sound of the band. Heavy, thick, devastating. A sound which Peter and the guys slightly put on the first THE ABYSS album, and multiplied later in most of the records Peter recorded/produced in the second half of the 90s.  Sound so typical for the The Abyss Studio. read more

Besides the obvious cold death metal, “Abducted” contains a clear black metal roots – musically, sonically and vocally. Heavy riffing, tremolos, hammering bass lines and pounding drums. Yes, every song contains a black metal shriek one way or another. The also follows a certain line in the songs’ order – a slow (ballad?) one, followed by an absolute (death/black) blast one – fast or in the typical Hypocrisy mid-tempo.  This structure of the record creates the perfect balance of “Abducted”, letting the album to be so vivid years after. Huge consistency I would say. This formula the band widely explore in every record they released after. In some albums successfully, sometimes not much.

Another key feature here – with “Roswell 47” the band/Peter clearly changes the topic which occupies their heads, and the aliens take over the lyrics. This is so underlined in the following HYPOCRISY records, as well as PAIN’s basis for existence.

All the tracks in “Abducted” are eternal, with heart and soul. I will not mention specific names of the songs – one by one they lead to another dimension. Just go and play the whole thing and you will spot what I mean, while singing (screaming) out loud the lyrics… Until you reach for the closing three tracks – so different, so atmospheric, so dark. Then you will know…

“Reach for the silence
Reach for an end…”

 You release your blood and fade away…”

 “Bury the pain
As I bury the knife in my body.
Slowly slipping away
To another dimension…”

PS: HYPOCRISY TOP 3 records (mandatory):

#1 Abducted (1996)
#2 The Fourth Dimension (1994)
#3 Hypocrisy (1999)

Count Vlad

Sepultura- Roots
February 20, 1996 – Roadrunner Records

Ok, let’s talk about SEPULTURA and their album Roots. First of all, I would like to put this album in context since it meant a break in the history and discography of the band. As many of you already know, SEPULTURA came from a couple of successful albums that marked their career such as “Beneath the Remains” and “Arise”, two of their best works that were a resounding success which catapulted them to fame, although not everything was written for this band, they had a well-marked direction and they knew they wanted to conquer the world. After his next album, “Chaos AD”, the hunger and thirst to experiment with new paths when recording their songs became ncreasingly voracious, especially by Max. read more

He was the one who had all that almost childish concern about experimenting and doing different things, so when it came to recording his next album, inspiration came to Max through a film he saw whose actors, John Litgow and Tom Waits play two mercenaries who get caught in the Amazon after their plane runs out of fuel. The idea was presented at Roadrunner Records and as logic suggests, it was not entirely well-received as it seemed a mixture of concepts that would not mix properly. But Max did not want to miss the opportunity. They had to try!

There was some lack of knowledge of how many tribes occupied vast country of Brazil until Max spoke with a well known expert who mentions that there are more than 700 tribes, and this drove him crazy. In any case, a tribe had to be found that could accept the challenge that awaited them, since many do not accept interaction with the “white man” and are even too dangerous and violent. Following her friend’s suggestion to speak to the Xavantes, open and relatively sociable tribes receive a recording of the Xavantes’ tribal sounds and are impressed with what they hear so the adventure is beginning. It was something that could be called “absurd and deranged” and also quite costly economically. But no one could take away Max’s sleep and he ventured to meet the tribe that, as he comments in his autobiography, meant the roots of his music and cultural legacy.

Little by little, the idea of going to the jungle to record with the Indians was gaining strength. They agreed with the link between the band and the Indians to receive financial support for their collaboration and this allowed them to build a school for the children of the tribe, in addition to the subsequent benefits that would bring them the royalties that would be lasting over time. Most of the members of the tribe could communicate in basic Portuguese, which made the task easier. This is how, after the collaboration of the Indians and the ideas of Max Cavalera and his colleagues, this album was created that would break the mould of what had been heard in the history of heavy metal up to that moment.

At first, the producers found the “Roots” sound completely anti-commercial and anticipated that the band was committing artistic suicide with this album. As time went by, they accepted the concept, the sound, and the mixes, in addition to the differential component of the album, the rich cultural history that had given it sustenance. In Max’s words, “Roots” would be a colossal album.

For many SEPULTURA fans, this album marked their lives forever and for many others who at that time were only just beginning to listen to heavy metal as teenagers, “Roots” was the album that changed their lives forever. For many others, this record not even their hair moved, it just passed by, followed its course and they found only a few decent songs. It is life itself, the fans are the ones who have the last word and their verdict is often unforgiving.

Just look at Metal Archives and read some reviews, the overall score this album has is low and depends on the taste of each one. What we all agree on is that it is different. It is clear that for Brazil, this is the most relevant heavy metal recording of all time and contains a high degree of spirituality and very strong cultural immersion. The songs are recorded at a lower pitch than normal with very heavy sound and social and political criticism that has characterised the band’s thinking for some time.

This album came to me that same year in 1996 when I was just 16 years old and I was a teenager looking for new challenges. I remember being drawn to cover art in the first place. Then I went to the store and bought the CD with the money that my dad gave me every month. When I first heard Roots I was quite confused. I had no idea what to expect.With NAILBOMB, Max had already shown me what he was capable of, creating unique sounds with various influences. At the first moment, I was surprised by what “Roots” offered me. It was a cd that passed without pain or glory through my collection. But songs like “Roots Bloody Roots”, “Attitude”, “Ratamahatta”, “Dusted”and “Ambush” makes this an enjoyable record.


In Flames – The Jester Race
February 1996 – Nuclear Blast

Like it or not, IN FLAMES is a band that helped change the metal landscape forever. They infused raw Swedish metal with frankly beautiful melodies and an unbridled sense of urgency. This built a strong relationship between the band and so many of their listeners throughout the first few albums that their place in history was cemented forever. While some of the other melodic pioneers of the day had a much heavier focus on synthetics and melodic tones, IN FLAMES were in the camp that kept things heavier, using melody as a compliment to the chaos instead of taking away too much focus from the death metal territory. Say what you will about the current state of affairs of IN FLAMES, in 1996 the band recruited DARK TRANQUILLITY‘s Anders Fridén and released their second album “The Jester Race” leaving a league of Jesterheads in their wake. read more

The album starts with a smooth melodic guitar before cranking up the speed and launching into their energetic metal assault. I remember the first time I heard “Graveland”, I got chills when it broke into the first part of the chorus. The way the guitars build off each other triggers an evolutionary response throughout my metalhead spine that makes me feel like I can overcome anything standing in my way, and that’s why I think IN FLAMES connected with so many people. Their tunes are heavy as hell but also very catchy and strangely thought provoking. Songs like “Dead Eternity”, “December Flower”, “Dead God in Me”, and “Artefacts of the Black Rain”, could probably bring me back from the dead. If you are feeling burnt out and need some metal motivation, “The Jester Race” is a great album to keep you going! The louder the better!

Metal Yeti

Acid Bath – Paegan Terrorism Tactics
November 1996 – Rotten Records

Picture the scene before the days of YouTube and immediate access to music, back when you might hear about a band, or catch a song on the radio, or read about them in the music papers and have to decide if you’d take a punt and buy the record or CD (or cassette!). I was in a music shop in Australia, around 1999 I reckon, and I had in my hands two CDs. The first was “When The Kite String Pops”, the debut album by ACID BATH, the second was “Stoner Witch” by THE MELVINS. I held the two CDs up and asked a guy working there which one I should go for and he said “well I don’t like ACID BATH, so I’d go for THE MELVINS”. And so like that my journey into THE MELVINS was off and running and my journey into ACID BATH was delayed, but it didn’t take too long for me to give them the attention they deserve. read more

Having become a greatly loved cult band since their demise, ACID BATH were one of these cases of a band that never really found the love they deserved while they were active. Too heavy for Grunge kids, too weird for the Death Metal crowd and delivering extremely doomy, nightmarish, idiosyncratic sludge back at a time before Doom Metal really got its hooks into people in large numbers. In 1997, after just two albums, their bass player was killed by a drunk driver and that was the untimely end of ACID BATH. Guitarist Sammy Duet first joined fellow southern Sludge merchants CROWBAR before forming GOATWHORE, while singer Dax Riggs quickly left the more metallic side of music behind for a more Blues and Rock centric direction. Maybe the band’s weirdness is part of why they’ve endured and still sound so fresh. The band plays a singularly strange and unsettling brand of Sludge Metal. Helped greatly by Singer Dax who sounds like the bastard love child of David Bowie and a phantom from the swamps, with unsettling surreal tales of blood, death, things rotting all around, voodoo and the pervasive sense that there are some extremely gothic love songs in amongst his weird twisted tales (possibly sung by a serial killer). And it’s southern sludge so it can be as heavy as a landslide of treacle. But unlike say CROWBAR where the sense of physical pressure is a brutal near constant ACID BATH would mix it up with haunting, acoustically driven death ballads like “New Death Sensations”, or the great, brooding, harmonics infused gloom of “Graveflower”. Mamma always said ACID BATH are like a box of chocolates, with each one of them rotting or with some insects crawling through them.

In keeping with a good, mysterious cult status the band’s music is hard to get hold of. You’ll only get a few low budget live recordings on Youtube, a few scattered tracks on Spotify, but hey guess what you can buy the albums on iTunes, or even better go on Discogs and buy the CDs off some independent sellers. Word to the wise though: don’t be tempted by the vinyl, word on the street is all the pressings are trash. If you are not familiar, and you have a taste for dark, grotesque, doomy Sludge Metal that doesn’t quite sound like anything else, with terrifying screaming and a crooning phantom on top of it do yourself a favour and get some ACID BATH into your life.

Until next time…

Truly Yours,
Blessed Altar Zine Team

**Please support the underground! It’s vital to the future of our genre

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