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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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“Carven Of Old”, the second Zi Xul demo tape in its brief three-year existence, represents a considerable leap forward in terms of writing, while being a gigantic step backward as far as production is concerned. The band is still centered on Jerry Brouwer (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Oskar Van Paradijs (lead guitar, backing vocals), with Valentijn de Ruijter providing studio drums for the session. It was the last Zi Xul effort before Brouwer and Van Paradijs were asked to join Centurian for the “Liber Zar Zax” recording. It was the swansong for a band that had enough talent to be its own entity.

Whereas “Beyond Human Rewarding” had some minor thrash metal leanings in its architecture “Carven Of Old” sounds like “Of Purest Fire” era Centurian and burdgeoning South American force Krisiun, specifically “Black Force Domain”. In terms of soloing there’s a definite Morbid Angel influence. While Jerry Brouwer’s vocals remain as percussive as ever, they seem to be better enunciated this second time around. There’s a greater focus on Oskar van Paradijs’ spectacular leads/solo acrobacy, and the greater percussive propulsion by Valentijn de Ruijter adds to the level of density that is otherwise lacking on this second demo. A wider choice of vocal styles links this second demo effort to Kataklysm circa “Sorcery” in its overall intensity and unhingedness.

Zi+Xul+logoZi Xul’s overall sound has improved manifold with denser, labyrinthine riffing, more ambitious lead playing, and far more diversified drumming. Oskar Van Paradijs’ riffing has come into its own, and his mesmerizing leads/solos are far more emotive than they were on the prior demo tape. The addition of a studio drummer makes “Carven Of Old” sound far more humane than the mechanical blasting of “Beyond Human Rewarding”. ‘As-Xul’, ‘Consecration’, and ‘The Return’ sound stylistically similar to the Centurian record they would feature on a year later. ‘Crawling Chaos’ is redolent of Morbid Angel in its opening section, and has several thrashy, rapid start-stop sections. Jerry Brouwer’s vocals are as percussive as ever, but he adopted a deeper tone for this demo tape that loses some of its impact due to the makeshift production. Oskar Van Paradijs’ serpentine solos feature more prominently, and they are integrated better in comparison to the previous demo. From the previous demo ‘Chastening’ and ‘Riding the Hordes’ were re-recorded. Overall there’s a more pronounced Morbid Angel influence on “Carven Of Old”.

As was the case with the preceding demo “Carven Of Old” was entirely home-recorded and self-produced on a limited budget. It is rather disappointing to note that the thin production is substantially worse, and not nearly as beefy as the “Beyond Human Rewarding” demo tape of three years prior. The rhythm guitar has lost a lot of its crunch and concreteness, and the mesmerizing leads/solos sound strangely muffled and buzzing. A close comparison in terms of production would be the Rebaelliun “At War” demo from 1998. Even though the demo is hampered by its makeshift production, the music speaks for itself. Without a shred of doubt Zi Xul was a promising newcomer within the more brutal subset of the death metal genre. Contemporary in execution, but clearly rooted in the genre’s not too distant past the duo offered the best of both worlds. Different prints of the “Carven Of Old” tape were circulated by the central duo. Some versions of the tape came with 2 re-recorded bonus tracks from the “Beyond Human Rewarding” session, respectively ‘Subjugation Of the Flesh’ and ‘Fulfillment’.

“Carven Of Old” was independently released and distributed by the band in 2000. It is a fitting eulogy to the short-lived Zi Xul as its core duo moved on to the stylistically similar Centurian. That they eventually would end up joining the latter isn’t much of a surprise as Zi Xul was moving into the same general direction as its more established counterpart. The result of the union would be “Liber Zar Zax”, the last Centurian record to feature co-founders Rob Oorthuis (lead guitar) and Wim van Der Valk (drums). “Carven Of Old” transcends its obvious shortcomings in production due to its considerable merits; it was an all too premature epitaph for a band that should have grown into its own entity. As shortlived as Zi Xul ended up being their legacy remains unquestioned. As an unsigned act they were far more potent than a great deal of their more established peers.