The road to fame in music is as infamous as it is elusive. Every year, solid debut releases come and go with immeasurable hype and acclaim. We here at Heavy Blog listen to a lot of them, and debate and bicker amongst ourselves as to the significance of said releases. Will he/she/they be the next [insert name of famous band here]? Is this a good or bad thing for [insert genre here]? Who even cares? Wanna fight?! So on and so forth. While each of us holds a unique perspective regarding this musical phenomenon, ultimately such a future is unknowable and is often at best highly unpredictable. For instance, some musicians answer this inquiry with album after album of stellar material that eventually creates fame and longevity to varying degrees for the musician(s) involved. For others, they’re greeted by the sophomore slump: the release of a follow up that pales in comparison to its predecessor, and often serves as the death knell for a band or musician’s future in the industry. These two particular artistic and career trajectories cycle and repeat themselves an innumerable amount of times in any given sequence of years. Such is the musical circle of life.
Then there are those who buck such trends by never releasing a follow up at all. These are the Demilichs of the world. The ones who drop insanely well-regarded and forward-thinking debut albums only to never again release another official full-length record, with all of the leftover hype leaving fans with nothing more than a huge question mark. What happened? What could have been? Questions frequently asked, and rarely fully answered. Thus is the tale of Timeghoul, the most (in)famous and incredible death metal band that never was.
For context: The year was 1992. Those familiar with the history of the death metal subgenre know just how big of a year that was. Deicide dropped Legion, Incantation brought forth its debut masterpiece Onward to Golgotha, Bolt Thrower unleashed destructive fury with The IVth Crusade, and Cannibal Corpse continued to relentlessly pummel listeners into submission with Tomb of the Mutilated. It was a stalwart year for death metal as a whole, continuing the legendary tradition established the year before, which was debatably the single greatest year in death metal’s short history. With so many quality albums being released in such a short period of time, it is understandable how some great music may have gotten lost in the shuffle. Yet stacked among the piles of titanic releases by the future gods of the subgenre an unheralded band named Timeghoul from the Midwestern United States released a four track, twenty five-minute demo entitled Tumultuous Travelings. It was lean, it was mean, and it was very, very good.
Timeghoul jumped into the burgeoning early 90s death metal scene as a rookie band that sounded like they’d been perfecting their craft for decades. Their music was relentlessly fast, ceaselessly heavy, with raw yet oddly spacious and dexterous production values, leaving room for the listener to breath and reflect within the maelstrom. Rather than simply pummeling the listener into bloody submission (though they did that fairly well), the band crafted death metal tracks with nuance, exploring the odd interplay between space and heaviness in a subgenre hellbent on pure listener suffocation. This approach to songwriting in death metal was fairly unique at the time, as the number of bands deviating from the more abominably ferocious trademarks of the subgenre was relatively slim. But beyond the sonic abnormalities that their debut demo presented was potentially the most unique facet of Timeghoul’s aesthetic: lyrical content. Eschewing the gory splatter and satanic caterwauling of their contemporaries, Timeghoul took a fantastical and story-based approach to songwriting, culminating in music practically drenched in philosophic horror, Norse mythology, science-fiction and fantasy elements (including a track title directly referencing Dungeons and Dragons), and an epic scope that few bands in metal were exploring at the time. These were songs of personal struggle, violent battles, and an ever-growing paranoia of planetary annihilation. Where Cannibal Corpse screamed about ejaculating blood, Timeghoul roared about beings “fettered by the riddle of foreverness”. Timeghoul weren’t just writing death metal bangers. They were creating narratives where music and lyric connected to and complimented one another in a way that death metal was not particularly known for. They were heavy. They were weird. Most importantly, they sounded great.
It would be two years before the band would release their second demo, Panoramic Twilight. Death metal had evolved, and so had Timeghoul. Whereas two years before the band had come out firing on all cylinders, swinging for the fences with punchy, spacey songs of doom and destruction, their follow up to Tumultuous Travelings was a different story entirely. Containing two tracks and almost twenty minutes of material, the band expanded their sonic palette in compelling and powerful ways. Some aspects of the sound established by their first demo were still present: the harrowing growls, spacey and heavy production, and the mammoth riffs. But this time around, the band decided to take its time with each new composition, creating space and texture that was singular and unusual. With the incorporation of haunting spoken word and choral passages (complete with sinister vocal effects) and ambient, synth heavy segues, combined with death metal growls and howls, doom-inflected guitar passages, and ever-changing song tempos, these two tracks heaved and breathed with an exotic life that was as impressive as it was surprising. This was progressive death metal before progressive death metal was a thing. It is, to this day, one of the strongest examples of style amalgamation in death metal that I have heard. Unfortunately, Timeghoul’s path to ascension was too good to last. The band dismantled not long after, taking with it an enormous amount of potential.
The all-too-short but incandescent career of Timeghoul poses an interesting question regarding what constitutes success in music. Does the band have an extensive back catalog that fans young and old can pilfer at will? They do not. In fact, it was decades later that the band’s demos received a serious re-issue from Dark Descent Records. But this lack of material has not diminished their notoriety in the death metal scene, and that in its own way should be considered a resoundingly successful career. While Timeghoul never reached the heights of Immolation or Death by releasing several albums to much acclaim, they instead made a distinct and lasting impression on the subgenre that laid a foundation for currently active bands like Mithras, Chthe’ilist, and Blood Incantation to explore progressive, fantasy, and science fiction styles and themes within death metal. That alone is a legacy worth celebrating.
Sometimes a band only needs one album, or perhaps six songs on two demos, to cement their place in their genre’s history. Timeghoul is a story of quality over quantity, and death metal is all the better for it. All hail Timeghoul, the greatest death metal band that never was.