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On its second album “Dream Deceiver” Dead Head reached a level of composition, and production values that finally lived up to its stellar live reputation. The band still played incredibly fast, and technical thrash metal but this time around everything was controlled better. Although the overall pace is lower, the album remains rabidly intense otherwise. Enforced by a superior drummer, and Tom Van Dijk adopting a deeper, but but not any less gnarly, biting or venomous vocal style Dead Head released its definitive statement. “Dream Deceiver” was the second of two Dead Head albums to be released through German label imprint Bad Taste Recordings and Intercord Record Services.

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New drummer Marco Kleinnibbelink was less frantic, and chaotic than Hans Spijker, but technically far superior in terms of fills, footwork and general composition. He would take his leave after the independently released “Promo 1995” demo. The songs are densely structured with more fluent transitions, the band’s patented explosive guitar leads/solos, and rapid start-stop sections. All are integrated far more naturally into each of the tracks. The songs sound not nearly as disjointed as some of the more frantic material from “The Feast Begins At Dawn”. In fact the flow of the record is one of its greatest strenghts. Prior to these recordings a promo tape was cut including the tracks ‘Ambiance Of Evil’ (that later became ‘House Of Ambiance’), ‘I Or the Needle’ and ‘Crimson Remains’. ‘Repulsive Emission’ is  a track detailing the dangers of information technology. The remainder of the tracks deal with the nefarious influence of religion.

One of the highlights of the album is the uniformly breakneck ‘Unholy’ that pulls the “The Feast Begins At Dawn” songwriting style into the band’s current creative paradigm. Not only has the track one of the best accelerations, it also has some very impressive drum chops by new recruit Kleinnibbelink, and veritably thundering bass licks. ‘Dream Deceiver’ has some very concrete rhythm sections, and a stellar emotive lead or two. The second half of the record is introduced by the slower, but not any less intense, ‘I Or the Needle’. The track deals with substance abuse, isolation and depression. ‘Crimson Remains’, as ‘Unholy’ before it, is custodian to a pair of fiery leads, and an explosive acceleration during its second half. ‘Shifting Sands’ is an instrumental moodsetting piece in tradition of ‘The Tribulation’ from the debut that was released two years prior. ‘Dying Angels’ is much slower fare once again, but Dead Head manage the style flawlessly. ‘Spiritual Suicide’ ends the album on a high note with its marvellously controlled chaos.

One aspect to take umbrage with on the band’s debut record was its overly dry and thin production. Dead Head understandably moved to a different studio location for this session, although they maintained a working relation with long-time producer Berthus Westerhuys. “Dream Deceiver” was recorded at Westerhuis Audio with Gert Stegeman, and Bertus Westerhuys manning the console. The record comes with a superior bass-heavy production with a lot of body, texture and depth. The instruments are balanced better against each other, with greater emphasis put on the booming bass guitar – and commanding drums with powerful kickdrums and cymbal crashes. The rhythm guitars possess far more crunch, and bite with increased levels of density, clarity and definition for the leads and solos. A lot of more attention was given to vocal production, and Tom Van Dijk’s serpentine rasps were now more malevolent sounding than on “The Feast Begins At Dawn” bordering on almost death metal territory in its gravelly bellowing.

“Dream Deceiver” is based at least in part on the 1987 Robert de Niro thriller “Angel Heart”. The movie itself was a screen adaption of the 1978 William Hjortsberg hardboiled detective novel “Falling Angel”. “Angel Heart” was directed by Alan Parker, who earlier had directed the silver screen adaption of Pink Floyd’s legendary 1979 concept double album “The Wall”. The screen adaption of “Angel Heart” stirred its own share of controversy for its infamous sex scene between leading man Mickey Rourke and a nubile Lisa Bonet. The track ‘Angel Heart’ is  a basic summation of what the novel, and film are about. The track ‘Dying Angels’ samples De Niro’s final speech of said movie.

Disregarding the partial concept “Dream Deceiver” is strong on its own considerable merits. Dead Head abandoned its chaotic approach, and near unhingedness in favor for tightly controlled aggression within more ambitious song construction. All while keeping its savage songwriting formula intact within the perimeter of a thicker, more textured and bass-heavier production. Only the visuals seems to have not undergone quite the same transformation. The photography is fantastic, but the cover artwork is underwhelming to say the least. The album was released in 1993 through Bad Taste Recordings and Intercord Record Services. While somewhat forgotten these days the album remains one of the strongest in its genre. Their sporadic output makes Dead Head one of Holland’s most enduring but still continually overlooked thrash metal entities.

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Valhalla, one of the Brazil’s oldest (and probably, earliest) female fronted death metal combos, has a checkered history with only sporadic output due to nearly constant personnel problems. The band formed in Brazil in 1988 as Adrea, and was briefly called Phobia, before adopting its current moniker for obvious reasons. Fixtures in all of the band’s various incarnations are the Tavares siblings Adriana, and Alessandra. “Evil Fills Me” is the vocal debut for Ariadne Souza, who has held the drum position since 2005. It has everything you’d expect from a band with nearly three decades experience behind its belt. If this is any indication of the future Valhalla might just surprise the world soon.

Given its long history it doesn’t come as a surprise that Valhalla draws inspiration from a liege of older American genre pillars. The trio sounds as a mix of various Tampa, Florida death metal luminaries, chief among them Monstrosity (“Imperial Doom”) and to a lesser degree Death (“Leprosy”, “Spiritual Healing”). “Evil Fills Me” has the combative thrashiness of Malevolent Creation, and the bass-heavy murkiness of Deicide’s crass self-titled debut. Unlike a lot of the genre’s younger practitioners Valhalla captures the genre’s hateful and macabre atmosphere that was prevalent during the 90s. In a sense they are remininscent of long suffering US death metal pillar Sadistic Intent that way.

10603264_839419932737549_4900959134052722944_nIn its current form Valhalla consists of sibling guitar tandem Adriana and Alessandra Tavares (who also plays bass guitar), and newly minted vocalist/drummer Ariadne Souza. Despite the fact that the band has been around for nearly a quarter century its knowledge of the English language still appears to be rudimentary at best. Thankfully the trio’s musical chops leave nothing to be desired. Both Tavares siblings deliver excellent riffs and chord progressions, but the true star of the record is Ariadne Souza who pulls double duty as both drummer and vocalist. Souza refrains from blasting excessively and her style is reminiscent of Steve Asheim’s work on “Legion” and “Once Upon the Cross”. Souza’s work behind the kit is compositionally stronger than the tiresome blasting that has sadly become the standard in the genre. Regardless she isn’t going to be named as the Brazilian successor to Lee Harrison anytime soon. She is however technically more accomplished than, say, Fernanda Terra or the likes.

The trio harnesses the earthen grittiness, oppressive atmosphere and ominous gloom that a lot of the established US death metal institutions (minus Incantation, possibly) have lost over the years. While hardly technical by any stretch of the imagination Valhalla writes to its strength without necessarily pushing the genre’s envelope. It goes almost without saying that “Evil Fills Me” is so powerful because of its consistency and genre purity. Valhalla plays death metal without any prefixes, or pretense. In that sense they are akin to UK warmongers Bolt Thrower. ‘Internal War’ houses a few impressive drum patterns and evil sounding riff schemes. ‘Mystery Of Existence’ recalls the Monstrosity song ‘The Exordium’ in its main riff. ‘Weird Desire’ sounds like “Imperial Doom” era Monstrosity, whereas the title track ramps up the vintage Deicide riffing. Souza has a monstrous grunt that combines the ferocity of George Fisher (Cannibal Corpse, ex-Monstrosity) and Glen Benton (Deicide, Vital Remains) in his younger years.

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“Evil Fills Me” was recorded with Guilherme Peixoto producing at his home studio. His work behind the console is very much in the 90s tradition. The production on “Evil Fills Me” sounds as if it came directly from the Morrisound Studios assembly line during the studio’s profilic 90s era. The production is crunchy with its gritty, murky tones and it adds a sense of gloom that is lost on younger acts in the genre. The bass guitar lies prominently in the mix without ever doing anything that warrants attention. The drum tone is warm and organic sounding. The entire production exudes the type warmth that was commonplace during the 1990s. Admittedly it is a bit rough around the edges, but “Evil Fills Me” is never underproduced. The impressive digital artwork by Rubens Snitram for Azoth Design fits the record perfectly in its abstract macabreness.

The EP was originally released independently. It was later picked up by British label imprint Secret Service Records for wider European distribution. One of Valhalla’s biggest strengths is its sense of tradition, and genre purity. Younger practitioners of the genre, such as the lauded Cauterization and Necromesis, too are bereft of any contemporary conventions. That isn’t to say that Valhalla is a relic of the 1990s. Far from it. It stands to reason that Valhalla is just doing what it always has done. There is nothing very ornamental about the band’s music, and that’s exactly the point with this genre. “Evil Fills Me” sounds like a long lost early Malevolent Creation or Monstrosity record. Valhalla isn’t concerned with playing the fastest, or being the most technical. Like vintage Sadistic Intent the ladies only care about writing the darkest, most hateful sounding death metal they are capable of – and they succeeded with flying colors. Hopefully we’ll see Valhalla return with a full-length effort sooner rather than later.