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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’.

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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.

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“Choronzonic Chaos Gods” is the last Centurian album of the original line-up that included future Severe Torture members Seth van de Loo (vocals), and Patrick Boleij (bass guitar). Despite the somewhat misleading imagery and album title, only a few of the tracks actually deal with the Thelemic Chaos Magick subject thematically project planning tools. It is a rejuvenation of the classic 90s Morbid Angel and Deicide death metal sound. It was the Dutch equivalent of the South American – and Florida death metal sound in many ways.

Centurian, the spiritual successor to speed/thrash metal unit Inquisitor, sounds very inspired by, and is a contemporary interpretation of, “Abominations Of Desolation” Morbid Angel, “Legion” era Deicide, and early Krisiun (“Black Force Domain” specifically). The spirit of Inquisitor, in terms of music as much as lyrics, still looms over Centurian on this record as it is far thrashier than any of its future output. This becomes especially apparent in tracks as ‘The Law Of Burning’ or ‘Let Jesus Bleed’. Centurian would abandon the last vestiges of its thrash metal past on the following album. ‘In the Name Of Chaos’ is an early example of what direction the band would take on “Liber ZarZax”.

centurian-choronzoniclineupCarrying the band musically are drummer Wim Van der Valk and lead guitarist Rob Oorthuis. Rounding out the line-up are Seth van de Loo (vocals), and Patrick Boleij (bass guitar) – while both deliver exemplary performances, they were hardly what defined Centurian. Van de Loo’s vocals are an approximation of Monstrosity frontman Jason Avery, and Boleij’s bass licks are more felt than heard, a fault that would thankfully be remedied with his own more Cannibal Corpse inspired project Severe Torture. The true highlights of the songs are the frantic leads/solos of guitarist Rob Oorthuis. The lead work reflects the Morbid Angel and Krisiun influence. Unlike their Brazilian peers Centurian is dynamically richer and, on this record in particular, also far thrashier.

‘Damned and Dead’ is a re-working of ‘Outro’ that appeared on the “Of Purest Fire” demo/EP. ‘Hail Caligula!!!’ samples the impalement scene from the 1982 exploitation peplum/sword-and-sandal cheapie “Caligula, the Untold Story” by legendary Italian shlockmeister Aristide Massaccesi (popularly known internationally under his pseudonym Joe D’Amato). Only ‘In the Name Of Chaos’ deals with the band’s Chaos theme that would feature prominently on this album’s much-lauded successor. The only conceptual shortcoming is that Chaos concept is hardly explored beyond the peripheral. “Liber ZarZax” would, at least in part, rectify this mishap – but the majority of Centurian’s lyrics continue to revolve around protest of organized religion. However seeing how the Chaos theme features so prominently in the visuals one is hardpressed not to notice how few times the record actually bothers to deal with said subject.

For the last time the band recorded at Q.S.A. Studio with Vincent Dijkers producing, and it isn’t hard to hear why. Dijkers’ work behind the console is adequate for what it intends to achieve but it by and large remains a glorified and much bass-heavier demo production. Despite its shortcomings the production fits the music. The guitars, rhythm as well as lead, are crunchy and vibrant, while the bass guitar is felt more than it is heard. Only the drums sounded better on the band’s 1997 “Of Purest Fire” demo. On almost all fronts the album was an improved over the demo. “Choronzonic Chaos Gods” was the second of three Centurian records with very similar artwork. This album’s artwork was painted in the blood of lead guitarist/co-founder Rob Oorthuis to spiritually charge the album. It is rather interesting in retrospect that regional death metal combo Zi Xul and its members are mentioned in the album’s thanklist.

“Choronzonic Chaos Gods” was released on American black metal specialist label imprint Full Moon Productions in 1999, and duly re-issued in 2014 by American underground specialist label Hells Headbangers Records to capitalize on the band’s reactivation. As far as contemporary death metal goes Centurian, along with Rebaelliun, were among its better examples. What sets Centurian apart from its imitators was the underlying thrash – and speed metal foundation, and the surprisingly dynamic writing within a high-speed framework. The stellar lead playing would also rapidly become a lost art among younger bands in the genre, especially in the more brutal subset of the genre. Even with the conceptual and productional shortcomings “Choronzonic Chaos Gods” is a very accomplished and contemporary rejuvenation of the classic Florida death metal sound as pioneered by genre pillars Deicide and Morbid Angel.