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-vader05.jpg

 

With “Revelations” Polish death metal institution Vader reached a comfortable state of familiarity with its new style and procured a stable working relationship with Metal Blade Records. The album follows the template from “Litany” to a fault, but is more groovy and less overbearing in terms of percussion. It is the first album to feature bass guitarist Konrad ‘Simon’ Karchut, while also having more keyboard flourishes on one track with ‘Revelation Of Black Moses’. The album was promoted with a video for the track ‘Epitaph’, which coincidentally was the working title for the album when it was cut. “Revelations” is Vader’s most popular album, and unfortunately the last full length to feature long-time drummer and co-songwriter Krzysztof ‘Doc’ Raczkowski who would bow out due to a serious injury after laying down sessions for this album’s follow-up EP.

19186“Revelations” is a lot more straightforward, and thrashy compared to the releases directly preceding it. Nobody can deny the level of energy and enthusiasm that Vader put into each of its releases. There are minor instances of Wiwczarek’s continuing his spoken and narrative bits, but these are surrounded by his usual hoarse bark. There are several solos in each of the tracks. Generally speaking there are about two, sometimes three solo breaks per song with a recognizable hook for each. ‘When Darkness Calls’ is the only song to be more complex than the other cuts. In all it is more reminiscent of something of “The Ultimate Incantation” but written within the band’s current creative paradigm. For that reason it stands out compared to the other tracks which are more straightforward and don’t have nearly as much of a buildup. For the most part “Revelations” is an album all about Raczkowski’s incredible finesse behind the kit as he truly delivers one of his best performances here. Whether he’s belting out fast thrash beats, crushing death metal blasts or grinding slow patterns – he truly was one of a kind.

The album is generally on the fast side, although there’s a greater emphasis on midtempo parts. Each track is cut up in several of these sections, and within each cut these slow sections are usually bookended by a blistering blast segment. ‘Revelation Of Black Moses’ is different in the sense that it is a slow crawling song from beginning to end. This was a curious experiment for Vader who had always had slower songs, but never truly midpaced or even slow ones. More than anything the greater focus and reliance on guitar leads/solos to carry the songs becomes clear here. Around this time bands all over the death metal scene were pledging to play more demanding and technical material. Vader does both things simultaneously, playing structurally simpler songs overall but each of these tracks is loaded with impressive technical playing. The band has lost none of its dynamic sensibilities, and a number of songs truly excel at this. Above all Vader is consistent, more than anyone else probably. No matter what is popular at the time, this band will always play some variation of its established Slayer-meets-Morbid Angel brand of thrashing death metal. “Revelations” is no different.

All lyrics were written by Łukasz Szurmińsk, except ‘The Nomad’, ‘Lukewarm Race’ and ‘Revelation Of Black Moses’ by Pawel Frelik. There are guest vocals by Nergal (from then-emerging black/death metal hopefuls Behemoth) on the track ‘Whisper’.  Liner notes this time around are rather sparse, and rather succinct compared to earlier releases. The tradition of mentioning the band’s mantra ‘stay powerful, creative, joyous and free’ in the booklet is started here. Loosely conceptual, the “Revelations” album brought together lyrical observations on the 9/11 twin towers disaster. The band doesn’t go out of its way to push this particular concept to any degree. The lyrics do pay a greater focus to mob mentality, group-think and put a greater emphasis on religious references and iconography. Even without the lyrical baggage the record is a highly enjoyable barrage of populist thrashing death metal by one of the best in the genre.

The biggest strike against the record is that it is bland. There’s no real change in Vader’s formula in essence, but the writing comes off as tired and uninteresting. Even for Vader, whose very existence is based upon rabid intensity and punch, this record doesn’t do anything to forward the band’s profile. Each track is cut from the same format, and none of them sticks very long with the listener after they are over. This was something that earlier Vader releases had no problem achieving. The only real stand out tracks for this session appear to be ‘Whisper’ (most because of the sampled women moaning, and Nergal’s fiery guest vocals) and ‘Revelation Of Black Moses’ for being what amounts to Vader trying its hand at a very rudimentary form of doom metal. On the other hand, Vader in a creative rut is still better than a great deal of other bands in this genre at their supposed height. “Revelations” is no revelation for the genre, nor the band that produced it. It is a solid, but unremarkable album from a band that usually is better. Among the likes of populist death metal acts such as Bloodbath, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary or Six Feet Under – it is a breath of fresh air in a genre tired with its own sound.

It is one of the more vocal-oriented offerings of Vader’s brief tenure with Metal Blade Records. The duo of Piotr ‘Peter’ Wiwczarek and Krzysztof ‘Doc’ Raczkowski  returned to record at Red Studio in Gdańsk, Poland with producer Piotr Łukaszewski. As always Wiwczarek’s handled vocals and all string instruments, with Doc providing the drums. “Revelations” is about as bass-heavy as “Litany” and it is blessed with a more refined drum production. Even though this is the most bass-centric of Vader’s early catalog, the bass guitar lines are anything but interesting. Like so many of their contemporaries the duo insists on just doubling the guitar riffs to get that extra punch and heaviness. The album is paced a lot better than “Litany”, even though this would be the second album in a row where Vader simplified its sound for more immediate accessibility. “Revelations” despite its enhancements in production and presentation is the least impressive of the early Vader catalogue. It would take the band one more album to regain its composure.