Various Artists
Aural Music/Code666: Better Undead Than Alive 2

These days, if you want to find out about a band – or a whole label’s roster – there are plenty of options. Websites, Myspace, streaming e-cards, YouTube, you name it. The days of picking up a compilation are pretty much over. So it was a pleasant surprise to receive Better Undead than Alive 2, which is the compilation that Aural Music/Code666 has put together to celebrate their 10th anniversary. ‘Cause it’s more than just a compilation – it’s a collection of all-new tracks by some great bands – both familiar and new – and it’s a complete album in its own right.

And just to drive that home, Code666 enlisted the skills of Ephel Duath founder Davide Tiso, who has composed short interstitial pieces that bridge one song to the next. Most feature the same kind of bleak, vaguely industrial noir that’s characterized most of Code666’s releases, although the pieces vary depending on what tracks they’re connecting. Bigger beats and active tempos for some, melodic drone and post-rock for others. It’s an almost painterly approach that worked really well when Trent Reznor assembled the soundtracks for Lost Highway and Natural Born Killers (although his efforts were even more like crazed, cross-genre tapestries), and it elevates this from an arbitrary sequence of songs to a focused and holistic listening experience.

I’ve bought a number of Code666’s releases over the years (Negura Bunget‘s modern-classic Om and ManesVilosophe being the most memorable), but I’d only heard of half of these bands. The Axis of Perdition is certainly one I know – “Chained in the Damnation Asylum” sounds like Behemoth or Zyklon plying their trade in Freddy Krueger’s boiler room. Negura Bunget contributes “Cumpana” – a typically stunning piece of grandiose, savage and scrambling black metal. If you had any fears that the band had become just a pale shadow now that two of its founding members are gone, this should change your mind. And the UK’s Fen close out the album with “Twilight Descends (Eulogy)” – a 13-minute, storm-on-the-horizon crescendo of organic black metal. It’s also a great preview of their next release – particularly the clean vocals, which are performed better and mixed lower than they were on last year’s The Malediction Fields – my only complaint from that otherwise-excellent debut.

Then there’s the new bands – new to me, at least – and there were some nice surprises there too. France’s The Oath has a chunky blackened thrash approach with layered electronics – they sound like And OceansAMGOD or The Symmetry of I, Circle of O. Italy’s Void of Silence captures the wistful melodies of Tiamat‘s Wildhoney, so much so that it sounds like an unreleased track. The Prophecy, out of the UK, takes the light/heavy Opeth approach with their lush doom/death, except their softer moments sound like early 80s AOR balladry instead of soft 70s prog. And Hungary’s Damned Spirits Dance smashes together churning death metal with a progressive ear for rhythm and structure, plus two dramatically different clean vocals. One is clean, sonorous and Garm-like, and the other is a strange Zack de la Rocha rap attack that should probably annoy the crap out of me, yet the whole song holds together and is one of the most energetic and intriguing things on the entire album.

Only a few things here didn’t really hold my interest. Herrschaft, who kicked all kinds of thrashy EBM ass with their 2008 release Tesla, sound curiously muted and less metallic on “Abyssal Wounds.” Sweden’s DiabolicuM ignites a hellish furnace blast of black/death mayhem, but it’s nothing all that unique. And Minethorn plays a dour style of industrial sludge – kind of like Mindrot meets Skinny Puppy – it would have been okay had it been buried somewhere in the middle of the album, but it’s the first track (maybe a bit of history at work, since the band members eventually went on to form The Axis of Perdition). None of these are bad songs, though, not by any means, and once again, having them all flowing together with Tiso’s interstitials still keeps your interest over the album’s 79-minute running time.

So look, the fact that I just wrote up a normal review’s worth of coverage for what should ordinarily be considered a compilation should be a convincing enough reason to check this out. Plus I’ve now got three bands’ upcoming releases on my to-buy list (Axis, Negura and Fen), and four more on my to-check-out list. And I’ve got another varied and interesting album that I’ll be playing for awhile. Happy 10th, Code666.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
February 10th, 2010

Comments

  1. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Jordan, you were certainly missing out, man. Eibon, Profound Lore and Code 666 can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned. More than 90% of their catalogs are made up of bands that deserve to be in any music lover’s collection.

    Dunno what track you heard from Void Of Silence, but their newest one (Human Antithesis) has Nemtheanga from Primordial singing. Check that one out.


  2. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Now that I think about it, those Johann Wolfgang Pozoj guys would be perfect for this label.


  3. Commented by: gabaghoul

    yeah I agree


  4. Commented by: timshel

    I with you, Cynic — Code666’s catalog is full of underrated gems. Negura Bunget is definitely the label’s premier act, though.


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