The Phantom Tollbooth

Chords of the Grave
Artist: Various
URL: (with sound samples)
Label: Cross Rhythms Music
Length:  66:24 minutes/ 15 Tracks

Cross Rhythms Music (CRM) has done the extreme Christian metal underground a big favor in releasing this compilation. Chords of the Grave is essentially the re-release of demos by four different death metal bands.

Obliteration starts the compilation off with a killer, brutal death metal sound. Despite not breaking much new ground, their classic American death metal growling and playing is done excellently with plenty of speed and blast beats and almost constant double bass beats. They sound like big fans of Suffocation, and who can fault them for that? This band is now known as Deathlist and has an album out called Severed. Although they have maintained a lot of their original musical intensity, they've dropped the death metal style vocals (too bad) and incorporated more of a hardcore sounding vocal, similar to Erase.

Evisceration is next with three songs of average death metal with a lot of double bass. The growling vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Crimson Thorn or Metanoia, though not as low. Unfortunately, the production is not as good as the other three bands, and the songs tend to just grind along without going anywhere. I hate to discount the band, and I would love to hear them progress, but these three tracks lack anything to make them stand out.

The third band, Disencumbrance, offers three songs of great intense death metal. They have a good variety of speeds, interesting arrangements, and a good thick sound (though not as nice as Obliteration). The vocals switch between lower and higher death growls. Disencumbrance has a distinct tyle that should please all fans of extreme metal.

The last official band on this release, Oblation, plays an original blend of brutal death metal. In my view CRM saved the best for (almost) last. The first three songs are from Oblation's self- titled demo, and the fourth song was only released on Heaven's Metal's Video Magazine #1 as far as I know. All the band's vocal and musical aspects are excellent, including their playing,  sound quality, songwriting, and even the tone of the instruments and vocals. These songs, especially the first three, are so full of movement it amazes me. You can sense the movement through space as you listen. This is a quality that I love in music and there aren't a lot of bands that capture it at all, much less this well. I would eagerly pay the price of this whole CD to get these four tracks alone.

As a bonus track CRM includes a live track from the Australian death metal band Flesh Walker. It's a very cool track, albeit a little strange. Vocally and musically this band had a good heavy sound. I would love to have heard more from them. The recording quality is also very good, especially for a live recording of an underground Christian death metal band. How many more strikes can you have against you? (Note: Alan Tregoning, owner of CRM, played bass for both Fleshwalker and Oblation.)

If there has ever been an essential death metal release in the "Christian" market this is it. Go and buy  it right now. You will be supporting future quality releases from CRM as well as getting one of the best death metal CDs around.

Chris King      (9/12/99)