Friday, July 19, 2013

Angel Reaper - Angel Ripping Metal

"Angel Ripping Metal" 2011 - Metal Ör Die Records
In 2011, Metal Ör Die Records released a compilation of the three-demo discography of an early Soviet-bloc black/thrash band called Angel Reaper. It's not the greatest of its style, the recordings are poor, but it's really interesting to listen to. Quite a vicious collection, but very harsh on the ears - the treble is more piercing than Morbid Saint's "Spectrum of Death" but less balanced and focused. If you like Bathory's first two albums, Sepultura's debut LP, and rough, ripping old-school extreme thrash, check this out.

Demo I (1987) - Doesn't rip hard enough, Angels are soft.

Angel Reaper have a really weird style where they mix these incredibly hokey, happy sounding melodic lead sections with dark sounding, snarled, heavy metal and some pretty rough thrash. At points they get to slower chugging parts where the vocalist snarls, then they just take off with fast thrash sections and screaming, but their changes in direction simply seem confusing. I'm not entirely sure these guys knew what they were doing with their songs at points - pretty much each section is pretty cool on its own, but collectively it's a mess. It's primal thrash metal with an early black metal edge, not too thrashy not vicious as one might expect, but there is some potential for that - it is limited by the poor production.

The guitars, drums, and vocals are all audible, but they also have the dynamic range roughly equal to the stability of the Eastern Bloc in 1987, where and when this was recorded. It's rough, it's pretty cool that this was recorded in this area in 1987, and I likely would've been impressed by some part of that if I heard it back then, but looking back from now, it's not particularly innovative nor good, and the recording makes Maximum Oversatan seem like technical wizards and guitar virtuosos. These guys make Venom look tight.

This is thrash that's not particularly fast, hardly memorable, poorly recorded, but offers a listenable experience and conveys a level of enthusiasm and intent to do things that they couldn't quite pull off. They managed it to a greater extent later on, but considering they were years behind Bathory, Sodom, and Kreator, they weren't really anything special then, and they're hardly special now. They have a cool name, some demos, and it's worth giving a run through if you like metal that sounds like a bunch of guys in a basement rocking the fuck out, but they don't even rock that hard.

They convey their enthusiasm an intents well, that makes me want to like it, but it just isn't very good.

A végzet utolér (1989) - Unrealized potential and sinister intentions.

Angel Reaper's second demo is a much longer, more matured, and more complete effort than their first, which is tacked on to the end of this one. Once again they open the release with a happy, upbeat melody - perhaps rooted in Hungarian folk music - but an odd choice for the vicious thrash that they pursue, starting with a bestial groan and dark, brooding riffing at the beginning of the next track. After the intro though, perhaps a national homage, though a mystery to me, they follow through on their intents, ripping through vicious thrash with more developed snarls and growls that sound like an Eastern European imitation of Venom and Sodom.

One of the more notable features of this demo is, while still playing relentless thrash, the incredibly rough production enhances the dual-guitar efforts, adding a haunting quality to unisons and harmonized fourths, as well as enabling the band to back some leads with some percussive hits from the rest of the band. At times, proud folk-like melodies ring out, as with a brief solo in "Fekete őrség" - in a way, sounding like high and mighty, triumphant national music, but in another sounding goofy and happy in an otherwise dark and minor blackened thrash attack. One moment, it feels like an even more grating tribute to early Bathory, an uncomfortably over-trebled sound akin to Morbid Saint, the next it's deliberately breaking that atmosphere for a nearly incomprehensible reason. "Kannibálok támadása" begins with screams and shouts like it is about to break into primal, bestial black metal, then it goes into a melodic section that's neither haunting nor particularly fitting.

The ideas found in Angel Reaper's music seem to have split into two separate things in more recent music - the first being metal based in Eastern European folk music, the latter being raw black/thrash metal - worshiping the more extreme side of the 80s. While these subsets of metal are not incompatible, it seems as if a combination must rely on a stronger control on atmosphere to channel the feeling the band intends, to capture the atmosphere and convey their intents. Instead, their vicious intents are apparent, but disrupted by these happy-sounding melodies that have a sweet guitar sound that simply doesn't fit the extremely abrasive sound of the rest of the production, from the sharp guitars to the snarling singer. They sound almost circus-like, something that would be in a "fun" wiffle thrash song from a jokester band like Scatterbrain or one of the countless recent pizzacore skater rethrash bands. Even if they're a somewhat minor feature in the songs, it completely changes the atmosphere and feeling of the evil Eastern Bloc onslaught here.

There is a lot of unrealized potential here, both captured and disrupted by the rawness. It is simply the unleashed fury of aggressive 80s thrash on one side, and the other side of the same coin is unrefined ideas that disrupt each other in not focusing the entire effort into a singular presentation of atmosphere and theme. That is simply a harsh reality of 80s demo tapes, where one hears what could have been with a little more control. However, the harsh reality of vicious thrash metal is also one of the upsides. This is a demo and band that intrigues me, but can't enthrall me as they always seem a step away from doing.

Exhumált világ (1992) - The logical next step and last step

Angel Reaper's final demo also displayed one final step in the band's evolution. The hokey melodies have been tamed, even transformed into an interesting exotic lead or two that fit the music, the dark atmosphere they always grasped at is in their holds now that the edge of thrash is no longer their target, and the vocals have been handed over to another band member who seems to fit them in more than have them stand out. Though it wraps up their somewhat lackluster and brief career with some satisfaction, this isn't their strongest effort - perhaps the most listenable without cutting the treble, but a bit dimmed by the loss of their reckless abandon.

The grating, vicious edge of their earlier works has been smoothed out and the band has a meatier tone, still lo-fi, and the vocals have had enough reverb added to make their Hungarian countrymen Tormentor blush. The production, though lacking low-end as they're still a thrash band with black/thrash vocals and a bit of a black end, is otherwise fairly similar to the muddy sound of many death metal demos of the early 90s, a welcome change from the high-end treble balance of their older demos that were harsher on my ears than Moonblood. It is certainly a welcome change and an interesting conclusion to their career, seeing how they focused and refined their earlier efforts. The overall notability factor is pretty low though - it's a thrash demo from 1992 that's not particularly impressive nor embracing the extremity that their intents seem to require to be realized. Drenching the vocals in reverb is a nice touch, a sign of the times in that they're taking some of the edge off of thrash for the atmosphere as they hadn't done in the past, but it's also quite behind the times for primitive yet extreme thrash - Tormentor were five years ahead of them on the vocals, and more intense, while Bathory seemed far ahead of this band as a whole, with both of those bands being much better. Perhaps the reason music like this is enjoyable is because it offers some potential that it could sound really good had their ambitions led them to the right places - something those bands are exemplary of.

Though they appear out of order on the "Angel Ripping Metal" compilation, it is an interesting journey to listen through Angel Reaper's demos - a journey through a few years for an extreme band that was neither an innovator nor particularly impressive, but offers us some insights into what metal was beyond those who became the most famous. While we know the history of metal by the top tier classics, even the second and third tier classics, and the steps in between for the bands who put those out, listening to the bands who never made it to that level provides a great perspective in what the differences between good, great, and decent bands are. This is a band that, had things gone a little differently, had they come a little earlier, might have managed to make a solid thrash album, or even a black metal album, rather than being swept into the dustbin at the downfall of thrash in the early 90s. Their mistakes are as interesting as their successes, and this is largely because the music oozes honesty - despite the goofy, happy melodies, they were intent on making evil sounding thrash metal. They pushed their music as far as they could, but their limitations kept them short of being more than a collection of artifacts that wouldn't regularly be on display at a museum, rather dug out for interested historians studying a broad range of things that includes the insignificant.

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