Vital Remains
Horrors of Hell

Those that remember the formative years of the death metal underground will have no problems differentiating this collection of early material from Vital Remains from the modern day, Glen Benton-fronted Vital Remains. As the death metal style has matured and evolved into a more horrific beast, recordings such as these are as critical to understanding the fundamental concept behind the bastard child of metal as knowing the relevance of addition to the study of mathematics.As one of the first American extreme metal ensembles to fully embrace an outwardly occult stance, Vital Remains explored a decidedly malevolent sound early on. Although very primitive in terms of engineering, the album’s first two tracks, “Of Pure Unholyness” and “Frozen Terror” exemplify the caliginous black mysticism of the band’s early sound as original frontman Jeff Gruslin forms irreligious bellows with a hellish clout. Much of the instrumental sound of “Frozen Terror” can be compared to a combination of classic Celtic Frost and early Obituary vibe. Gruslin’s grunted chants fused perfectly with the band’s chaotic attack and production aside, these two tracks are classic examples of the roots of American death metal, and are by far the most advanced of the band’s triumvirate of demo recordings.

With the release of their Excruciating Pain demo, the group had gained a considerable following in the metal tape-trading underground for their extreme anti-Christianity stance and blackened sonic cataclysms. Although this demo was much less crude than their previous effort, Reduced To Ashes, the band was it’s formative stages. The ghoulish vocalizations summoned by Gruslin during “Resurrected” perfectly compliment the advanced, chaotic fretwork of guitarists Paul Flynn and Tony Lazaro and the embryonic influences of Floridian death metal. Slayer was also a very predominant influence upon the early sound of Vital Remains, as evidenced by the sonic chaos of “Fallen Angels,” a track bearing a distinguishing resemblance in terms of instrumentation to that of Metal Blade-era Slayer. Gruslin’s T.G. Warrior-inspired utterances further emphasize the dark nature of this cut, a definite highlight of the 1990 demo.

Unquestionably, the most important reason to own this collection is to experience the band’s 1989 debut, Reduced To Ashes. Although the sound quality is completely atrocious, even in light of remixing and remastering, the purely wicked personality of the group rises above the challenging mix, to form an all-out, unholy assault of intently adversarial death. Although this material is extremely rough, it’s executed with abundant venom and certainly as evil as most anything deemed to be its precursor. In addition, spin “More Brains” for an eye-opening look into the primal development of gore metal.

Century Media has wrapped this blissfully irreverent piece of history into one fantastic, limited-edition package with excellent artwork, lyrics and revealing liner notes by guitarist Lazaro, once again making these long sought after recordings which illustrate the formative years of American death metal available to the group’s now-considerable fanbase. It’s crucial to keep in mind that these recordings offer no engineering miracles, but once you’re past that point of order, this is an excellent insight into the history of one of death metal’s most influential and now, most popular acts.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erin Fox
April 9th, 2006

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