Skip to content

cover-centurian03

In the Centurian canon “Liber Zar Zax” is special because it is the only record to feature Zi Xul members Jerry Brouwer (vocals, bass guitar) and Oskar Van Paradijs (lead guitar). Prior to the pre-production sessions Seth van de Loo (vocals), and Patrick Boleij (bass guitar) had taken their leave in order to prioritize their own band Severe Torture. It is the last to feature co-founders Rob Oorthuis (lead guitar) and Wim van der Valk (drums) on the same recording as a schism would occur within the ranks leading to the band’s sudden dissolution at the height of its power. “Liber Zar Zax” is the crowning moment of Holland’s most promising death metal force.

Centurian is, or rather was, the embodiment of Chaos

At this juncture Centurian was in its strongest constellation with two unified creative camps working towards a common objective. Brouwer and Van Paradijs shared the same strong interest in occult subjects and Thelemic Chaos Magick as did Oorthuis and Van der Valk. The strong anti-religious sentiment remains intact but a handful of songs are now directly dealing with the Thelemic Chaos concept that set Centurian apart from its contemporaries. The recruiting of Brouwer and Van Paradijs brought Zi Xul levels of intensity to Centurian’s already whirlwind assault. Oorthuis and Van der Valk obviously became better at their respective instruments in the intervening years. “Liber Zar Zax” reflects the lineup change in the sense that it takes what the band did previously and pushes it onto the next level. Centurian outplayed its popular American inspirations Deicide and Morbid Angel, musically and conceptually, as both of who were experiencing bouts of creative fatigue when the album was originally released.

‘The Reading (Zarzax unto Zax)’ cites an incantation from the Liber Pyramidos. Why ‘Hell At Last’, a track from the “Of Purest Fire” demo/EP, was re-recorded for this session remains puzzling. Its space had been put to better use by the inclusion of an entirely new track. ‘Feeding Flesh To the Vortex’ was the sole instrumental Centurian ever attempted. While the album deals thematically with the Chaos subject, the majority of the record still concerns itself with other subjects, chief among them a seething anti-religious sentiment (‘Heading For Holocaust’, ‘Hell At Last’, ‘Ritually Slaughtered For Satan’, ’Speech Of the Serpent’, ‘Fornicating the Nazarene’) and the Roman empire (‘Colosseum Of Blood’). The Chaos theme itself is only explored in ‘The Reading (ZarZax Unto Zax)’, ‘Conjuration For Choronzon’, ‘Committed to Hell’ and ‘Dead Black Nucleus’.

centurian

One of the highlights of the record is the lead/solo work of guitarists Oorthuis and Van Paradijs. Both complement each other’s style and feed off one another in terms of riffing. While none of the soloing is particularly shabby or underdeveloped ‘The Reading (ZarZax unto Zax)’, ‘Heading For Holocaust’, ‘Ritually Slaughtered For Satan’, ‘Conjuration For Choronzon’ and ‘Speech Of the Serpent’ stand out as definite peaks of the album in terms of guitar acrobacy and – soloing. Highlighting the amazing guitar work is the stellar performance of drummer Wim Van der Valk. His impressive chops can be heard especially on ‘Heading For Holocaust’, ‘Ritually Slaughtered For Satan’, ‘Speech Of the Serpent’ and ‘Fornicating the Nazarene’. Regretfully he would disappear into anonymity for over a decade following his starmaking appearance here. Brouwer’s switch from guitar to bass is commendable, although he hardly gets to shine.

It is however the combination of Deicide’s primal blasphemous fury and Morbid Angel’s technical finesse that make Centurian, and this record in particular, as incendiary as it is. Coupled with the ramped with speed and better arrangements Centurian, as their South American contemporaries Rebaelliun, proved that not only Hate Eternal and Krisiun should be considered leaders within the then-nascent modern death metal scene. It was the thrash – and formative death metal architecture within the music of Centurian (and Rebaelliun too, for that matter) that set them apart from Krisiun. Additionally were both van de Loo and Brouwer far more expressive frontmen compared to Alex Camargo. The Chaos thematic offers respite from the barrage of antireligious vitriol, and it is somewhat disappointing that the record only explores it in a handful of songs. Wim Van der Valk absolutely dominates on this album, which makes it all the sadder that the world never got a proper successor wherein he finally could claim his place among the extreme metal drumming elite. He certainly deserves any and all accolades for his work here.

For the first and only time Centurian recorded at Dutch death metal factory Franky’s Recording Kitchen with Berthus Westerhuys producing and drum engineering by Peter de Koster. The change of studios finally gave Centurian the appropriate production. The guitar tone is crunchy and textured, the bass guitar is fittingly thick and the drums sound commanding for the first time. “Liber Zar Zax” is the last of three Centurian records with very similar artwork. The digital artwork for the final album of its classic line-up stint was rendered by much in-demand Polish graphic designer Jacek Wiśniewski, who had made a name for himself in the industry by providing artwork for established genre pillars as Krisiun, Monstrosity and Vader. It is impressive from an artistic, and technical point of view. Conceptually however it is merely a digital reproduction of the “Choronzonic Chaos Gods” blood canvas with more of a fixation on the arachnid creature, swathed in the blazing fire that featured prominently on the layout of Zi Xul’s 1997 independently released “Beyond Human Rewarding” demo tape.

“Liber Zar Zax” was released in Europe through French label imprint Listenable Records in 2001 as the first of a three-album contract. It was licensed to Olympic Recordings and Century Media Records for North America which resulted in festival appearances. “Liber Zar Zax” is the logical evolution of the “Choronzonic Chaos Gods” sound. The writing is further tightened up, and the last vestiges of the band not too distant thrash metal past have been duly ironed out. In terms of sheer intensity Centurian could measure itself with North/South American acts such as Hate Eternal, Krisiun and Rebaelliun. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any one that the latter sported Centurian shirts in the promo shots of its “Burn the Promised Land” debut. Unfortunately upon reaching its creative apex Centurian briefly reaped the benefits of its elevated profile before mounting interpersonal conflicts eventually led to the band’s abrupt demise.

cover-deadhead02

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.

1560399_702039049923225_7426866231464752810_n

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.