Centurian – Liber Zar Zax

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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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