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There was a considerable turnover in the ranks of Cenotaph after “The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows” – and as such it isn’t very surprising to note that a change in style would occur reflecting that shift. Where “The Gloomy…” was an occult and dark sounding record in vein of Incantation and Asphyx, “Riding Our Black Oceans” is far more technical, abstract and Swedish in tone and delivery. The influence of “The Red In the Sky Is Ours” era At the Gates is obvious, and while the playing style is similar to that of the album that came before, the writing style is completely and utterly different. Even the cover photography is a far cry stylistically from that record released some two years previous. This was a wholly different band with a different artistic vision. The old Cenotaph sound might have been abandoned, but the rejuvenated and energetic approach with what Cenotaph attacks their new vision is equal, if not better.

cenotaph-ridingWhere “The Gloomy…” was a oppressive and tenebrous album laden with and drenched in reverb, Corchado’s unearthly grunts and spooky synthesizers, this record sounds a lot more open-ended and, for a lack of a better term, clear. That is not to say this record sounds happy, or even remotely upbeat. No, far from it. The long winding songs on this record permeate an aura of estrangement, hopelessness and cold uncaring. The instrumental title track has just an acoustic guitar and little else. The most known track from this session is ‘Soul Profundis’, a midtempo crusher that channels the best of early At the Gates and Dark Tranquillity. Like the preceding record there’s lively interaction between fast and slow sections, and Clorio’s drumming is as unrelenting as ever.

Highlights of the record include ‘Grief to Oscuro’, the hugely atmospheric instrumental title track and ‘Soul Profundis’. The last track deserves a special mention as it includes everything which makes melodic death metal so poignant and strong when done right. Fast passages segue into doom-like dirges, acoustics merge flawlessly with death metal and a passionate vocal performance and funky bass guitar playing add to the fireworks. If you decide to sample a track of this record, that one comes highly recommended.

The dry and somewhat clinical production is mostly similar to that of “The Gloomy…”, but on all fronts is it cleaner and less gritty. The guitar tone goes for the Sunlight Studio type sound, and the drum kit sounds more organic, full and warm this time around. There is more clarity, definition and bite to the guitars here, and especially the leads/solos benefit from this treatment. The bass guitar can be clearly heard popping and plucking away, while the record is not overly bass-heavy the kickdrums and bass guitar thankfully do add to the overall heaviness quota. The acoustics sound roomy, and never clash with the earthy production. That is not to say that there aren’t any faults with the production work. For one, there’s little low end to the whole – and it does tend to sound a bit processed and, well, too dry and lacking in crunch at times.

From the preceding record only Oscar Clorio (drums) and César Sánchez (guitars) remain. Julio Viterbo makes his debut on guitar here, and the riffing and use of unconventional melody is akin to that of Alf Svensson from At the Gates. The shouted shrieks of Edgardo González mostly ape Tompa Lindberg’s style on the aforementioned At the Gates record, and the bass guitar playing of Fernando Garcilazo is surprisingly vital to the compositions. It is a lot more adventurous than many of their contemporaries in North America and Europe. It is never wildly exotic or funky, but it does add a lot of flair to the riffs and the swirling and conflicting melodies.

There exist several pressings of this record. The original album was released by Cyber Music in 1994. In 1999 the album was re-issued by Mexican label Oz Records first in its original form. The same label re-released the album a second time, now adding 5 bonus tracks, of which 3 live tracks and two studio outtakes. The three live tracks are ‘Crying Frost’ and ‘Lorn Ends’ two tracks that would appear on Cenotaph’s next album “Epic Rites” and a live recording of ‘The Solitudes’. ‘As the Darkness Burns’ would appear on “Epic Rites” as well. ‘Everlasting Command’ would appear in its definitive form on the band’s final album “Saga Belica” from 2002.

If you like a different on the early sound of At the Gates then this album is certainly worthy of your consideration and time.

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Of the earlier full-blown death metal acts Mortification from Australia was one of the more interesting outfits. Sounding as a mix between Morbid Angel, Kataklysm and Sinister the lads from down under delivered their ultimate effort with “Scrolls Of the Megilloth”. The band’s second album is a bass-centric slab of thunderous death metal that combined the best of the American and European scenes, on top of being graced with a sense of percussive density and elegant melodicism all its own. Steve Rowe might not have been a particularly gifted vocalist, but he and his fellow band members knew how to write a death metal song. The album was released by Chicago label imprint Intense Records in North America in 1992, while then still death metal-focused German label imprint Nuclear Blast Records promoted and distributed the disc in Europe.

The album opens with ‘Nocturnal’ that is initialized with sounds of crickets, frogs and other nocturnal beasties before delving into some dense riffing and simple but effective drumming. The riffs still carry an audible thrash metal vibe, but Rowe’s thundering bass guitar and his semi-shouted, semi-growled grunts push this easily into the realms of death metal. There’s a clear influence from “Blessed Are the Sick” by Morbid Angel in terms of overall construction, and the whole album exudes a sense of urgency and immediacy most closely related to the Kataklysm demo “The Death Gate Cycle Of Reincarnation” and Napalm Death’s stylistically similar “Harmony Corruption”.  Rowe’s vocals are cavernous grunts that remain both frightening and surprisingly eligible. Much like Bolt Thrower’s Karl Willets, Dave Ingram from Benediction (and later also Bolt Thrower, for one album alone) and Death mainman Chuck Schuldiner, Steve Rowe pronounces the lyrics surprisingly clearly, especially in the many faster parts. The straightforward drumming is pummeling and intense but never excessive.

‘Eternal Lamentation’ is closest to the title track in terms of construction, and the finale is especially dark and malevolent sounding. It is hard to tell whether the bass guitar is the lead – or support instrument at times, and that is exactly the strength of the record, and the band at this point in time. Mortification was both standard and deceptively smart about what it did, and how it did it. ‘Raise the Chalice’ has some effective double-tracked vocals and funky bass lines, but is rather limp and non-committal otherwise. ‘Lymphosarcoma’ has more double-tracked vocals and is reminiscent of Kataklysm’s slower material. Its first three minutes are stock death metal, but halfway it segues into an introspective, somewhat technical bit between the prominent bass guitar and the rhythm guitar until the drums fall in and the song works towards its conclusion. The title track starts off with chiming funeral bells and a schmaltzy church organ – what it leads to can easily match itself with the better cuts from Kataklysm and Napalm Death of this era. It is by a wide margin the most violent and bloodcurdling cut of the recording.

‘Death Requiem’ owes a good deal to “Hell Awaits” and “Reign In Blood” era Slayer as far as architecture is concerned, and the band doesn’t go out of its way to hide it. The spoken part in the mid section with the chiming bells make it sounds more ambitious and atmospheric than it actually is. This is once again a clever usage of limited resources and studio effects. The concluding spoken part and studio effects strengthen the cut. ‘Necromanticide’ opens with the sampled spooky wind of “The Evil Dead” and an effect of breaking glass. This track is largely similar to the title track in construction, notable is that the guitar playing is far more pronounced here. ‘Inflamed’ is the darkest sounding track of the album along with ‘Eternal Lamentation’.  In truth, ‘Inflamed’ is a mere introductory track to the mammoth death/doom epic ‘Ancient Prophecy’, which clocks in at a gargantuan almost 12 minutes. It is the highlight of the album and the ideal closer.

The production aims for the thick but clear Morrisound sound of the time. Despite that it wasn’t recorded at that facility the similarity in scope, the replication of tones and overall range is astounding. This could easily be mistaken for a US sound production. To push the record two promotional videos were shot. One being the more accomplished ‘Scrolls Of the Megilloth’ and the other being the largely live shot ‘Terminate Damnation’. Of the two the title track is most representative for the album it is culled from, and ‘Terminate Damnation’ shows the more straightforward and percussive side of the band.

As far as early death metal is concerned this album is as haunting as it is atmospheric. Be it through the intelligent usage of sound - and studio effects, eerie melodies or the sparse organ Mortification use everything in moderation. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination if the bass playing on here at least, in part, influenced the writing and playing on Demilich’s sole album “Nespithe”. “Scrolls Of the Megilloth” is an often overlooked sub-classic in the death metal genre – and this in part due to the isolation of their geographic location, as well as the band’s ideological convictions. Mortification’s second album could easily measure itself with the American – and European releases of the time. It is largely eclipsed by the band’s extensive catalog of trend-hopping and constant musical reinvention to pander to wider demographics. As far as 90s death metal is concerned “Scrolls Of the Megilloth” is worthy of your undivided attention.