As much as we love highlighting the latest and filthiest death metal for our depraved horde of readers, Death’s Door wouldn’t exist without the countless veteran bands and classic albums that helped shape our love of the genre. That’s why we’re inviting you to journey with us down to Death’s Vault, an outlet for us to highlight some crucial records for the progression of death metal. While we’ll obviously cover some established classics along the way, our main goal will be to shed light on some criminally underrated deep cuts in the death metal canon. So without further ado, wipe your feet on the mat, settle into a bone throne and prepare for a bloodbath.
Let’s set the scene, shall we? The year is 1993, and death metal is about to embark on what will be a landmark year for the subgenre. Releases from Death, Gorguts, Cynic, Demilich, Carcass, Dismember, Morbid Angel, and a host of others pepper the metal landscape with enough tasty riffs, technical doohickery, and devil worship to further perpetuate America’s already belligerent satanic panic. Death metal’s dominance of national media attention and the metal scene at large was at its peak, and there seemed little to stop it. Though, as with all good things, that honeymoon would eventually and unfortunately be slowed to a cultural afterthought, as the late nineties and early aughts saw the most gnarly of metal subgenres collapse into a pattern of trend hopping and poor output from some of its most talented bands. While several of the above-mentioned were able to weather that storm and produce quality music throughout their careers, for some the lightning of maximum potential only struck once. Brutality is one of those bands.
I first discovered Brutality a few years ago while perusing online forums for new death metal. I had not heard of the band before, and decided to investigate. Fitting in with bands like Scott’s previously discussed Infester, Carnage, and Demilich, Brutality only released one universally acclaimed record, 1993’s Screams of Anguish. Though Brutality stick out among this group as having released multiple records, none of them come remotely close to capturing the glory of their debut. But herein lies one of the beauties of early death metal: A band didn’t need a collectively fantastic body of work to make an impact on the scene, and Brutality are a perfect example of this. Hailing from the influential and fertile death metal scene of Tampa, Florida, Brutality brought a distinctly unique edge to their music that set them apart from their peers in noticeable ways. They were an anomaly, a band in the Tampa scene that never reached the glorious career highs of Obituary or Deicide, but nevertheless made their mark through the sheer world-destroying heft of Screams of Anguish. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and give this album its due. Best buckle up. It’s about to get filthy.
It takes literally milliseconds to catch a whiff of what Brutality are cooking on their debut. Right out of the gate, Jim Coker’s drums blast their way into existence, an offering of complete and total audio punishment. Don Gates and Jay Fernandez aren’t slouching on guitar, either, keeping pace with the manic drum work throughout and interjecting enough thunderous chugs to put a smile on many a Bolt Thrower fan’s face. “These Walls Will Be Your Grave” is an utterly punishing opening track that incorporates just about everything that made death metal’s glory days amazing, replete with solos, wild and dark mood/tempo swings, guttural vocals (performed ably by Scott Reigel), and riffs stacked on riffs. With everything going on, it would be fairly easy to expect a lot of technical fireworks on Screams of Anguish, but that isn’t entirely true. While technical death metal began to make its presence felt in 1993, Brutality opt more for the, um… brutal aspects of the subgenre. True to their name, this track and the record at large are aberrant displays of ugliness, bringing a garish intensity that is ably performed and cuts straight to the chase. But this emphasis on sheer aggression didn’t keep Screams of Anguish from incorporating nuance or stylistic variation. Throughout the record, the band alternate their speed between Morbid Angel-esque blasting and a more Incantation-like crawl, allowing several sections of the record to revel in a more doom-oriented atmosphere. “Ceremonial Unearthing”, “Septicemic Plague”, and “Crushed” all could easily fit into the slower, more grinding death/doom popularized by the east coast giants, and add a nice dash of variety to an overall fairly fast and violent affair.
One particular aspect of Screams of Anguish that separates it from its peers is its liberal use of instrumental interludes that are so unique and antithetical to the rest of the record’s sound that at first it’s fairly agitating. The synthetic compositions of “Sympathy” could’ve been pulled directly from an early-90s RPG, while “Spirit World” dips lightly into a dark prog rock vibe that is both beautifully performed and somewhat jarring considering the tracks that precede and follow it. Frankly, these aren’t even “interludes” if we’re being honest. Each exceeds three minutes in length, marking them as purposeful, full-length tracks that have a definitive purpose in the overall design of the record. While this tonal shift is fairly stark, repeated listens reveal these tracks to be welcome reprieves from the sonic annihilation that is Screams of Anguish, offering the band time to build additional atmosphere and depth, as well as give the listener some breathing room. Without question the most controversial portions of this record, these two tracks highlight the band’s compositional prowess and willingness to take risks. If only this penchant for experimentation would have carried over into a more successful career.
Perhaps the greatest indication of the quality of Screams of Anguish is its endurance. While the band have released several records since 1993, none of them stuck in the metal conscious like their debut, as the band eventually fell into relative obscurity. But this album’s strengths are so prominent as to perpetuate its inclusion in a great many death metal all-time best lists. Deservedly so. In a year that saw the release of some of the most highly regarded death metal albums in the subgenre’s history, Brutality’s unique bolt of lightning struck once and with great force. Screams of Anguish is a fantastic record that I heartily recommend to any and all fans of death metal’s earliest, most brutal releases.
Screams of Anguish is available for streaming on Spotify and other major services.