Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Today's history subject: Phlegethon

In Greek mythology, Phlegethon is one of the five rivers in the underworld. Yeah, the ones ruled by Hades, with the burning flames and stuff. The other four are called Styx, Lethe, Cocytus and Acheron (other Metal bands as well). It is said that Styx was in love with Phlegethon, but she was consumed by its flames and also sent to the underworld and Hades.

That was the Greek History lesson. Now let’s get to the cool story, the one about Finnish Death Metal.

Phlegethon is one of the first and most respected Finnish Death Metal bands. And if you have no idea was Finnish Death Metal is, just remember that it’s pretty similar to its Swedish cousin, but it sounds a little darker and it evolved into something slower and pretty much doom-like.
Phlegethon was formed and recorded some demos in the late 80s, before releasing their only official production, an EP called Fresco Lungs in 1991. But the band disappeared shortly after that release; according to leader Lasse Pyykkö; because they’d lost their inspiration. They reformed briefly in the early 2000s and recorded a few new demos that inspired Lasse Pyykkö to form other bands. And so Phlegethon was put on hold again…
The good news is that two years ago, Xtreem Records released Drifting In The Crypt a double CD compilation that features just about everything Phlegethon ever recorded. Just like the Spanish label did with Funebre’s Children Of The Scorn a few years ago. Label boss Dave Rotten (!!) really is a Death Metal maniac, you have to thank the man for these awesome releases.

Funebre's Children Of The Scorn: The other Finnish Death Metal classic

I’m not going into the details of “what sounds like what” and about “why this demo sounds cooler than this one” simply because in this CD’s booklet, you’ll find a fantastic interview of Lasse Pyykkö conducted by one of Death Metal’s finest specialists, Oliver “Zoltar” Badin. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about Phlegethon and about each one of the recordings.

Phlegethon's complete discography on this 2CD compilation out on Xtreem Records

Briefly though, note that CD1 contains the 1989 & '90 demos, and that they sound pretty much like all of the early European Death Metal demos: harsh, raw, very clumsy and very Slayer-like. They also have that insane and freaky atmosphere that made this period so special. Nothing really outstanding here, just another pioneer Death Metal band, with a taste for twisted riffs and weird song names (“Encapsulation Of The Ark Of The Covenant”). This latter song is probably their best song ever by the way; almost 10 minutes of insane thrash/death Metal riffing and a bunch of cool melodies.
Promo 95 on Disc 1 is a joke. Somehow in the 90s, some bands thought that mixing rock and Death sounded cool. They called it “Death Rock” and some bands actually released well-known records. Remember Carcasss horrible Swansong? Or Blackstars’s self-titled?

Strange song names and also strange artworks...

CD2 is a little bit more interesting as it contains the famous Fresco Lungs EP, which pretty much sounds like the demos, but with everything being much better. Obviously better sound, but also better musicianship. Some old songs were re-recorded, like the fantastic “Ornaments” or the aforementioned “Encapsulation Of The Ark Of The Covenant” (still didn’t get that name!). You also get to listen to 2 bonus songs released back then, very doomy and Sabbath-like “Stone Me” and the weird techno-shitty one “Without Tea Waters”.
But things really get interesting with the 2006, '07 & '08 demos. With all the old-school Death Metal revival that went on, Phlegethon reunited and recorded a couple of new songs that show that they still ruled, and that their cult status isn’t an accident. The awesome riffs are still here and so are the twisted melodies. Really outstanding Death/Thrash Metal.

It’s a shame the band didn’t reform long enough to actually release some official new material. However, this experience was exiting enough to restart Lasse Pyykkö’s inspiration. This guy is a Death and Doom metal maniac and he soon started recording with an incredible amount of bands. Check out Metal Archives if you want the exact count, I’m just going to mention 2 of them: Claws (Death Metal) and the infamous Hooded Menace, my personal favorite, probably one of the best Extreme Doom Metal acts around. But that my friends, is a whole other story…

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