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Gorefest was a totally different band, in both style and mindset, by the time they cut their third record “Erase”. Boudewijn Bonebakker (lead guitar) and Ed Warby (drums) had been in the unit for a couple of years by now, and both seemed to bring out more of lead guitarist Frank Harthoorn’s traditional metal influences. Deceptively simple in arrangement, yet wholly complex and technical in its own ways “Erase” is first and formost a musician’s album. The songs play up to the strengths of the individual players, and as a whole it is a more laidback, almost classic rock inspired effort. Melody features more prominently than ever, and the abundance of swinging guitar leads/solos will potentially put off those who liked this band’s demos and first album. So, what is “Erase” exactly? Well, mostly it is a transitional record for a band in between two sounds…

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Gorefest’s third album was a divisive one that had the band sitting comfortable in the niche they had created with the preceding album. With an increasing creative influence from guitarist Boudewijn Bonebakker and drummer Ed Warby “Erase” is mostly lambasted for its heavy reliance on groove, its pristine but overly dry production and the looming but prevalent traditional metal influence that came to the surface more than ever before. The drumming is more involved and involving than before without ever becoming excessive on any front. That restraint is exactly what makes this album as powerful as it is. Certainly, there were more brutal alternatives available on the scene, more darker and faster ones too, but those hardly matched the combination of songwriting, musicianship and excellent production work that is witnessed here. Gorefest captured lightning.

From the opening moments of ‘Low’ the shift in direction is notable.  A 4/4 drumbeat gives way to a melodic traditional solo, and Jan-Chris’ vocals are more clear, yet more commanding than on “False”. On all fronts Gorefest had become more musical, more mature perhaps as “Erase” is a full-on socio-political dissection of the ills of modern society. Where “False” dealt with social-political themes in broad strokes, this album goes for a more personal approach to the subject matter. Restraint is the keyword for this album because outside of a great focus on melodic leads/solos the record is probably the slowest the band had written up to that point. There are plenty of fast and faster parts, and even blastbeats for that matter – but everything serves a greater purpose. Every note is there for a reason, and nothing goes to waste. The album is almost clinical in its precision and methodic in its songwriting. This could definitely be considered a forté – but it could also be pointed out as a potential weakness for the exact same reasons. Everything is cold, precise and almost inhuman in parts. Gorefest, in mind and feeling, is still very much present - but they are notably different than they were before.

‘Fear’ is the most melodic track of all with traditional metal stylings all over the place. Much like ‘I Walk My Way’, ‘Seeds Of Hate’ relies on its driving rhythm section and its monstrous chorus, in which De Koeijer dryly relates: “the problem is you.” ‘Peace Of Paper’ is, besides the rather clever pun in the title, the most devastating track on the record. Faster than most cuts on this album from the onset this track wastes no time in getting to the point. The juxtaposition of Warby’s intense drumming and the guitarist duo’s melodic leads and solos is one of the most readily impressive features of the cut. The real highlight is Warby’s blast segment with incredibly fast but controlled footwork and cymbal crashes. It is an unreal display of limb control. This makes the drum intro to ‘From Ignorance to Oblivion’ sound fluffy in comparison. The whole cut revolves around the interplay between guitars and drums. The bass guitar is circumstantial, and only serves its absolute minimal purpose here, just providing bottom end heaviness. ‘Goddess In Black’ segues beautifully with the preceding track, going for the opposite direction. After the blast track, it is soothing to hear the almost doom-like ‘Goddess In Black’. Another amazing, and somewhat extended lead/solo section forms the basis for the track’s conclusion. Feedback introduces ‘To Hell and Back’, which mostly follows the pattern of ‘I Walk My Way’, and like that track it suddenly explodes into a grooving rhythm section which will be driven to a climax to end the album. The track is broken up in a number of start-stop sections and lead breaks, which are bookended by the band’s typical groove procedure. It looks so simple, but it most certainly is not. That is the cleverness of the deceptively simple sounding arrangement, and the writing at play.

The production, done at two different studios, and handled and overseen by producer Pete Coleman (who had worked with Cancer and Disincarnate the year before) is the most bass-heavy of all the band’s productions. The pairing of Coleman and Gorefest isn’t strange in itself, given the period in time this album was released in. Considering that Coleman is mostly famous for productions of 80's AOR/melodic rock it wasn’t all that far-fetched that both would eventually work together, given how Gorefest never was a standard death metal band to begin with, not even in their early days. De Koeijer’s bass guitar for the first time can be clearly heard popping away. Ed Warby’s drum kit sounds full, warm and utterly massive, which is a clear step forward compared to “False”. The tom and snare sound is acquired taste, but the kickdrums have never sounded more rumbling and thundering than they do here. The guitar sound is largely carried over from “False”, but they now have added layers of depth, texture and range.

“Erase” saw Gorefest at the height of its success and power, and the record embodies that attitude. The cover art forgoes the blood splattered band logo, and instead there is the new GF sigil that would also feature in the promo video to the title track. The sigil itself is part of a furnace, displaying the consuming fire inside. The photography and overall presentation is slick and professional to a fault in terms of composition and execution. The whole band appears calm and collected, confident in itself, its skill set and the material presented. The drums were recorded in Studio Zeezicht in Holland over 4 days in January 1994. With two days in between sessions, the band reconvened at T&T Studio in Gelsenkirchen, Germany with producer/engineer Pete Coleman for a two month session to lay down vocals, rhythm guitars, bass guitar and the many involving and carefully crafted leads/solos. The choice of studio was probably at behest of drummer Ed Warby, who had recorded there earlier with his former band Elegy. In a lot of ways this is the kind of album that Sinister, Thanatos, Pestilence or Altar would never come to write and/or record. They all had their major and minor successes and signature albums, some more deserved than others, but for them the stars never quite aligned like they did for Gorefest with this album. It is possibly the last great “old school” Dutch death metal record before the new school would take over, and dictate trends from that point forward. It is a time capsule of a time now sadly passed.

The record was a priority release for Nuclear Blast Records at the time, and it was pushed with two promotional video clips. The most widely known is obviously being the title track. It is an artfully shot and expensive looking black-and-white video that exudes a level of seriousness often lacking in metal video productions. Recorded in a abandoned warehouse, adorned with chains and elevated platforms for each member, whereas on the groundfloor a dozen or more glass-eyed extras, both male and female, wander around in white straitjackets. Central in the warehouse there is a backdrop of the GF sigil that featured prominently on the cover art of the album. The second single ‘Fear’ is the typical live performance video cut together from various club shows, which isn’t very interesting outside of some backstage footage. Nevertheless it showed that Nuclear Blast was serious in promoting this record in whichever avenue available to them.

After this record Gorefest would venture into more laidback death ‘n roll territory with the subsequent two albums, “Soul Survivor” (1996) and “Chapter 13” (1998) before calling it a day due to mounting interpersonal – and business problems. The band members drifted apart in various non-metal related projects and bands. In this period only Ed Warby remained active within the scene, acting mostly as a live session or studio drummer for various projects. After a 6-year hiatus, in 2004, Gorefest reformed and released “La Muerte” a year later among a slew of old school institutions returning to activity. Another two years down the line, in 2007, “Rise to Ruin” was released, as a contemporary interpretation of “False”, but despite the critical acclaim the band dissolved with only Ed Warby (drums) remaining active in various extreme metal acts.

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If one was to look at the blueprints for the Norsecore style, three records come to mind instantly. Marduk’s “Heaven Shall Burn…”, Immortal’s “Battles In the North” and Dark Funeral’s “The Secrets Of the Black Arts”. All three laid down the tropes and conventions and are historically important for this reason. While the Marduk and Dark Funeral albums are largely similar in construction and architecture, the Immortal record deviates from the form in terms of music and lyrical subjects. At the same time “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” is interesting because it is the only record of its kind in the now extensive Dark Funeral catalogue. Let’s find out why that is.

12196116_1097632683594622_4770725593262264490_nWritten almost entirely by former Necrophobic co-founder/guitarist David Parland, and recorded (after an aborted session at Unisound with Dan Swano) at Abyss Studios by then up-and-coming producer Peter Tägtgren (Hypocrisy), this is at its heart a much faster, leaner and overall meaner Necrophobic record. A record like this readily proves black metal’s lineage to the earlier death metal format. Squint your eyes and tilt your head a bit, and you’ll hear that these riffs are just slightly differently arranged Necrophobic, or death metal riffs rather, written and performed to inflict maximum damage. These riffs slice and cut through flesh, the drums hammer away in reckless abandon and the trachea rendering shrieks make people and small animals flee in fear. Other than that, the obvious influences of Bathory, Celtic Frost, Possessed and early Slayer are very hard not to miss, both conceptually as musically.

Much of what would later become this band’s calling card (and the genre as a whole, really) are the piercing, tormented shrieks and rasps, the razorsharp slashing riffing and eerie melodies, plus the seemingly constant blasting drums which batter the listener into submission through repetition. The lyrics talk about the usual assorted subjects of evil, Satan, Lucifer and related imagery. They are far more vivid and imaginative than they would be on later albums. This is the template, in concept and architecture, from which later albums would be built. The biggest difference is that those albums are not nearly as effective, haunting and malevolent sounding as this often-neglected debut. On the whole the album relies much on its novelty factor, and the shock value of the extremity presented. When being truthful, the album kind of drags towards the end because all these tracks sound incredibly similar, and the overall lack of dynamic range doesn’t help matters either. “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” is a good, even a great, album but it isn’t one that inspires a lot of replayability. Only the title track and the two EP tracks is what make this record as strong as it is, and they deviate from the formula.

At the center of the coven is guitarist/main composer David Parland (Blackmoon), along with second guitarist Mikael Svanberg (Ahriman). He would become the de facto leader and the spokesperson of Dark Funeral after this album’s completion. On vocals we have Paul Mäkitalo (Themgoroth) who provides bass guitar along the way, and laying down the drums for this debut is Peter Eklund (Equimanthorn). Parland, Mäkitalo and Eklund would all depart at various times and for various reasons after this album’s completion making this the only album of the original line-up. This is also why this album sounds markedly different from future output, and while superficial similarities are abound Svanberg’s writing is a hollow shell and a pale imitation of what Parland wrote for this outing. It’s the only record to feature a cover painting by Kristian Wahlin (Necrolord) and the last English titled release outside of the preceding self-titled EP, the “Teach the Children To Worship Satan” EP from 2001 and the band disowned bootleg “Under Wings Of Hell” from 2002. As you’ll note the preceding EP and this debut have vastly different artwork in comparison to the works to come. The artwork by Kristian Wahlin is something you’d usually associate with Swedish death metal, melodic or otherwise. The logo is also slightly different from future albums. This is due to copyrights held by ousted co-founder David Parland. David Parland, after all, was Dark Funeral.

The band’s modus operandi was fairly unique at the time, as both they and fellow Swedes Marduk were cultivating this blast-oriented branch of black metal. Dark Funeral’s approach is straightforward and uncomplicated, relying on a continual flow of blastbeats and unrelenting waves of flesh tearing tremolo riffing, all delivered in blistering speeds. Outside of a few scant melodies there’s little what sets these songs apart, and only the two older songs and Von cover track sound actually different from the freshly written material present here. Dark Funeral is an entirely different beast than Necrophobic. Although both share a similar melodic slant, and a heritage of earlier thrash metal in its foundation and overall architecture – Dark Funeral is ultimately the more over-the-top and extreme of the two units. At a blistering pace the band cut through 9 original tracks and a Von cover. Outside of the compact intro there’s no respite to be found, nor a breather. Of the 9 nine originals two tracks (‘My Dark Desires’ and ‘Shadows Over Transylvania’) are re-recordings from the earlier self-titled EP.

In all “The Secrets Of the Black Arts” is interesting in the ways that it differs from the Svanberg-led albums to come. As far as 90s black metal goes this is one of the more engrossing examples of the minimalist, barbaric side of the spectrum. This album would inspire legions of imitators and copycats for decades to come. With the more atmospheric Norwegian releases, and the cult-ish Hellenic albums released around this time, Dark Funeral was at the forefront of this extreme new metal style. One can only imagine what this band would have sounded like had Parland remained with them.