“Trading Pieces”, the first proper Deeds Of Flesh record, is different from its later output in that it draws from more traditional sources. It is a loosely conceptual record about cannibalism, and serial murder in contemporary society. It is the second of three records featuring original Deeds Of Flesh co-founder/drummer Joey Heaslet. “Trading Pieces” was one of two records to be released through Spanish label Repulse Records. Deeds Of Flesh adopted an even more dense, atonal and percussive death metal style afterwards.
What made Deeds Of Flesh so different from most death metal of the time was the sheer propulsion and intensity of its compositions. While “Trading Pieces” is more conventionally death metal in terms of sound, it still is far faster and atonal than what was standard at the time. The dual vocal approach was hardly novel, Tampa veterans Deicide had popularized it many years before, but the interaction between rhythm guitarist Erik Lindmark and bass guitarist Jacoby Kingston did it better than many. The trio’s fixation on speed and percussive intensity comes at the price of dynamic range. In truth “Trading Pieces” suffers significantly lesser in this regard than the band’s later output. This can be attributed to a greater presence of slow parts within each song. Likewise will guitarist Lindmark occasionally integrate a creepy melody or foreboding chord progression, which is something the band would abandon after its debut.
Much of the record aims to shock the listener with its content. Not only has gore been a staple of the genre for many years, a lot of times these end up on the comical end of the spectrum. Deeds Of Flesh sidestep this rake in that most of the record deals with cannibalism, and serial murder in one form or the other. Its most interesting tracks are those that detail the work of real-life serial murderers. ‘Carnivorous Ways’ is about serial killer Albert Fish. ‘Born Then Torn Apart’ is a song about infanticide. ‘Chunks In the Shower’ is about German serial killer Joachim Kroll. Alternatively ‘Erected On Stakes’ details East-European antiquity. The song is about Wallachian warlord Vlad Tepes, a Romanian folk hero who became part of popular culture through Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula that took its name from Vlad’s patronymic. ‘Acid Troops’ deals with MK-Ultra, a classified CIA project wherein troops were given LSD during the Vietnam war. Additionally ‘Acid Troops’ opens with a sample of screaming, artillery and war noise.
For the most part “Trading Pieces” is memorable because it isn’t quite as over-the-top as the rest of the band’s discography. As one of the early Deeds Of Flesh works it is more famous for what it set up rather than for what it actually did. Given that the that trio had only been working together for a brief amount of time it is far more loose, and not nearly as frantic and technically demanding as it successors. Heaslet’s drumming isn’t quite as over-the-top yet as it would be on future albums, and some of the tracks here have recognizable hooks – which is something that Deeds Of Flesh would abandon past this album. The characteristic bass breaks here first surface on ‘Impious Offerings’ and ‘Acid Troops’. These very same tracks are also the only two to pass the three-minute mark. The record is bookended by samples of a person getting stabbed, slashed and devoured (although these effects sound more like a person repeatedly walking through muddy patches of water). The samples are supposedly meant to invoke shock in the listener, but end up sounding pretty silly in retrospect.
The album was recorded in just three days at Moon Productions in Arroyo Grande, California with Thomas E. Gingell producing. Given the brevity of the session it is surprising that the record ends up sounding as good as it did. The production is adequate for the most part but misses the typical concrete bass-heaviness that comes with a more extensive and properly budgeted session. The guitar tone is actually quite crunchy given its overall thinness, but it is complemented by the thick, throbbing bass guitar. The drums sound functional, but miss the full sound and body of this record’s two successors. The snares and toms sound flat while the kickdrums are very commanding and provide much of the bottom-end heaviness along with the bass guitar.
“Trading Pieces” was one of the two records to be released through Spanish label imprint Repulse Records, the label from Avulsed frontman David Sánchez González (Dave Rotten). The artwork by Jackie is fittingly macabre and horrifying, but is not visually interesting enough besides its apt approximation of a classic Cannibal Corpse, or Carcass canvas. It goes without saying that Deeds Of Flesh’s debut album is hardly a mandatory purchase, and in retrospect its only contribution, and importance, to the scene is that it helped usher in a new era for the genre. The band’s defining moment would only arrive with this album’s successor “Inbreeding the Anthropophagi”.