Óværa – “Perdido En Islandia” (2019)

I don’t know much about Óværa, though the five-piece has been around since 2014 and the guys are veterans of hard and fast music. Their Bandcamp page lists among their styles “Death Metal” and “Hardcore”. Their Facebook pages lists their “Products” as simply “Intensity”. This is definitely the kind of thing I want to listen to.

The five-song Perdido En Islandia came out last year and it’s the perfect music to accompany our languishing plague-ridden days. Sharp guitars, driving rhythm, and dueling vocals alternating between a guttural growl and a demonically-possessed screech combine to alternately rend your flesh and pound you into pulp. This is music meant to be played LOUD so that you can feel it in your chest, where it will take root and then consume you from within.

You can check out Óværa’s music and videos on their website HERE, as well as order their music, including Perdido En Islandia on vinyl, from Bandcamp HERE.

Bolt Thrower – “Realm of Chaos” (1989)

This is a bit of an unusual post, as I don’t have a physical copy of this album. On the rare occasions I do post about something without having it in hand, it’s usually because it’s something new and only available digitally. Owning a copy isn’t a “rule” for the blog per se, it just so happens that I’m old school and still love the physicality of media, whether that be vinyl, CDs, tapes, books, zines, old photos… you name it. Part of this is certainly due to age, having grown up in the pre-internet times, and I also attribute some of it to being an only child whose family moved a lot when I was young – my stuff became the one constant in the blur of new cities and new schools and trying to fit in. Neurotic? Probably. Though over the years I’ve gotten better about purging things I no longer use. I suppose that will probably happen to part of my vinyl collection at some point, too. Or maybe all of it. After all, I already sold off all my records once, back in the 1990s, so no reason to think I won’t do it again someday.

ANYWAY… what does all this have to do with Bolt Thrower‘s Realm of Chaos? Well, in addition to having an affinity for my stuff, like many introverted nerds in the 1980s I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and it blew my mind. This was something different than movies and novels, which delivered a complete story to you and didn’t leave a lot of room for your own imagination, instead offering a framework you could use to create your own stories and narratives. Plus the rule books were heavily laden with numbers and tables, something that appealed (and continues to appeal – I can lose myself for hours in spreadsheets) to some part of my brain. The story could be creative, but the framework was governed by rules with a dose of randomness thrown in for good measure. Kind of like real life.

That led me down a rabbit hole of collecting role playing games. Top Secret… Traveller… Twilight 2000… Paranoia… Battletech… Champions… even weird stuff like Toons. Games, books, modules, magazines, miniatures… anything I could get my hands on, even those little Steve Jackson pocket games like Car Wars and Illuminati and Battle Suit. I read Dragon every month and sought back issues back when the only way to do that was to reply to an ad and send someone a dollar for their price list, then write them back with the issues you wanted and a check. Oh and don’t forget to list backup choices, because by time your order got there they might not have what you want any more. Because that’s how life worked before eBay and Amazon.

Mind you, I didn’t actually play most of these games. I absorbed them. Consumed them. Created characters and made my own modules and adventures, most of which were never realized. But that was my art, if you will, the way I created. I did occasionally play AD&D when I could find some like-minded souls who took it seriously enough, but not too seriously. In high school we had a nice group of five that would get together on the rare occasions when we could get all of our parents to agree to drive us all to the same place for part of a day. I’m still in touch with two of them on Facebook (hey, Patrick and Tom!), another is MIA (Howard, where are you?), and the last passed away way too soon (RIP, DJ). We had some fun games, though in reality role-playing games were an oddly solitary pursuit for me.

You’re probably still wondering what the hell this trip down memory lane and self-analysis has to do with Realm of Chaos. Well, Realm of Chaos is an entire album about a game, Warhammer 40,000 to be specific, aka Warhammer 40K. And of course I bought one of the first Warhammer 40K rulebooks in the 1980s, along with some of the miniatures which I clumsily painted. And while that one book was the only Warhammer product I bought, the 40K universe stuck in my mind for decades. The psychic emperor rotting away on the mechanical throne that kept him alive; the genetically modified space marines in their armor; the orks; and of course the archenemy of the human race, the forces of Chaos. About five or six years ago I started reading some of the Warhammer 40K novels, and now I’m about as obsessive about that as I was about collecting games (and records). I figure I’ve probably read at least 50 so far.

Is Realm of Chaos the first album ever to be entirely about a game? I don’t know. There were some Dungeons & Dragons spoken word records for kids in the mid 1980s, but those were just audio stories. Buckner & Garcia gave us Pac Man Fever in 1982, but that was about a number of different video games, not a concept album about only Pac Man. In subsequent decades we’ve seen groups like The Baseball Project, but that came later and is about an actual sport, something that happens in the real world. The fact that an album that came out in 1989 about a game I was familiar with blows my mind. Unfortunately copies with the original Warhammer 40K cover are quite expensive, since Games Workshop wouldn’t allow for the band and label to re-license it in later years, and while I’ve been close a few times I’ve never been able to convince myself to pull the trigger, so I’d never heard it before. Yes, I could have bought a later pressing with the different, albeit super-similar (but just dissimilar enough to prevent everyone from getting sued) cover… but I want the original dammit!

And then Spotify finally came into my life. And one of the first things I played when I subscribed was Realm of Chaos. And I’ve been playing it almost daily for weeks.

“Intro” perfectly sets the dark mood, one of dank isolation, before Bolt Thrower absolutely crushes you with “Eternal War”. Blast beats and guitar riffs conjure up alternating images of rapid-fire combat and existential dread, with the growled vocals exactly capturing what I imagined a Chaos space marine sounds like when they talk. Even the lyrics keep with the universe’s backstory: Welcome incursions of chaos / You know you cannot resist /
To serve, worship, obey them / Is the only way to exist
. Song titles include very specific references to Chaos (“Through the Eye of Terror”), gods (“Plague Bearer”), and even the fallen Chaos space marines themselves (“World Eater”). “World Eater” is my absolute favorite because the riffs just kill and drive the song forward, synched perfectly with the drums and bass and combining an epic quality with a relentless assault on your ears. When the structure deteriorates midway through the song we find ourselves in the world of Chaos, unstructured, rending your eardrums like a power claw.

I’m glad to have finally experienced Realm of Chaos. And if I’m being honest, it makes me want to pony up and buy an early pressing of the vinyl. Many hardcore fans have shied away from the re-release as the label (Earache) and band had a very public falling out, with the band insisting the label doesn’t have the rights and that they’re not being paid royalties, with the label of course disputing this. I have no idea who is right or wrong in this dispute, and certainly neither will make a dime if I buy a used older pressing, so I guess I can do so guilt free should the gods of Chaos drive me to do so.

Nirvana 2002 – “Recordings 89-91” (2009 / 2020)

I’m glad we live in a world in which there is just enough interest in extreme music to make it feasible to collect a bunch of 20 year old recordings, clean them up, and put them out. I get that death metal isn’t everyone’s bag. Let’s be honest – it’s almost nobody’s bag, and if it is your bag it’s a bag full of blood and bones. But that didn’t stop Relapse Records from scraping together 15 suitable tracks from the first generation Swedish death metal band Nirvana 2002 and putting them out back in 2009. And there was enough interest to re-press it on vinyl (1,000 copies total spread over three different colors) again in 2020. Somehow one of the black vinyl copies found its way to Seattle’s Silver Platter Records, and that’s why I’m getting to enjoy my first taste of Nirvana 2002s blast beats.

It seems almost impossible to believe these guys were between the ages of 14 and 16 when they formed Nirvana 2002 (originally called Prophet 2002, then Nirvana, and they when they heard one of the early Sub Pop Nirvana singles they switched to Nirvana 2002). And they never played a single live show during their original incarnation. It’s hard to believe because this music is so outstanding – “Mourning” is a flat-out metal masterpiece, while “Snake” takes the band in a more thrash direction for a bit and absolutely shreds. The insert liner notes provide some background on the band and the songs, including the lyrics, which is useful since there’s very close to a zero percent chance of understanding them just by listening.

You can stream the entire album HERE, as well as purchase the download. The rehearsal tracks are a bit rough, as one would expect, but the first half dozen songs are tremendous and worth the price of the download all by themselves.

Bolt Thrower – “Spearhead / Cenotaph” (2014)

I’ve had this weird fascination with the English death metal band Bolt Thrower for some time, and it’s not for the normal reasons – it has nothing to do with their sound or look or philosophy, or because some other band I’m way into cites them as an influence. No. I’m fascinated by them because of the cover of their 1989 LP Realm of Chaos. You see, I’ve always been a geek in various ways. When I was a teen I was way into role playing games, and in recent years I’ve gotten way into sic-fi fiction, and those two interests have recently overlapped in a way that touches Realm of Chaos.

I speak, of course, of Warhammer 40K.

If you’re not familiar with Warhammer 40K, in a nutshell it’s a fictional universe that takes place in the 41st millennium as mankind tries to maintain a hold on its part of the universe, fighting against alien species and the demon infested realm of Chaos. There’s more to it than that, but you get the general gist – it’s a dystopian future that is both super technologically advanced but that also has it’s own weird mythology, sort of like a future version of the Spanish Inquisition in space (No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!). Space marines, both good and evil, play a central role in both the game and the fiction, and it’s the space marine battle scene on the cover of Realm of Chaos that I think is great. Unfortunately Bolt Thrower was unable to secure the rights to the image past a certain date, so subsequent printings of the album have a different, non-Warhammer 40K cover. I’ve been on the lookout for a nice copy, but have hesitated to just drop $75-100 and get one through the mail. So far.

So imagine my surprise when I spied this record over at Extreme Noise in Minneapolis the other day. That’s a chaos (i.e. evil) space marine on the cover… and it’s a Bolt Thrower record? What the hell is this? Well my friends, this is what is sometimes referred to as an “unofficial” release. I’ll leave it to others to pontificate on who put this out, did they have the rights to do so, and other such legal niceties. But what I can tell you is this record is comprised of two early Bolt Thrower EPs – 1990s Cenotaph and 1992s Spearhead. And since I haven’t been able to find a Warhammer 40K cover copy of Realm of Chaos, this seemed like a bargain for about a quarter the price.

Turns out early Bolt Thrower is pretty killer, all double bass drums, lightning fast riffs and growled vocals. Sonically the quality is very good for an unofficial vinyl release – my copy is visually clean, and while it has a couple of audible pops it’s generally noise free. Bolt Thrower’s pure raging density means I’ll probably need a few more listens in order to better separate the songs and become more in tune with how they differ, outside of the obvious fast-and-heavy versus slow-and-heavy camps. The one live track, “Realm of Chaos (Live)”, is unfortunately a bit lackluster – it’s the studio material that carries the day. What I like the most is that even with the growled vocals you can still follow Karl Willetts’ lyrics if you pay a little attention – it’s not some unintelligible primal noise barf like that which accompanies some extreme metal.

You like it heavy? Bolt Thrower brings the heavy, son. So come get some, if you think you can handle it.

Runemagick – “Dark Live Magick” (2011)

This morning felt like the end of summer. We woke up and it was cold and gray and rainy outside, the start of a rainy weekend. My sinuses were pounding, mostly from my allergies but also possible from Jack Daniels. The first cup of coffee started to help and hopefully the second will work it’s magic. (♠) So what to listen to on a morning like this? Live doom/death metal, of course.

Sweden’s Runemagick started up in 1990 and were active until the late 2000s. Their early material generally falls into the death metal genre, though over time the band added more doom aspects to their music, and that can clearly be felt on their 2001 live album, Dark Live Magick. The quality of the recording is surprisingly good – in my limited experience with extreme metal live albums tend to sound pretty crappy, but you could easily mistake this for a studio album if it wasn’t for hearing the crowd at times. The band plays a tight set, heavy and driving, with Nicklas Rudolfsson’s guttural growl providing vocals straight from the pits of hell.

I dig this album way more than I thought I would. The sound quality is excellent, the pacing good, and the songs have a great flow to them. Runemagick don’t wallow around in their own excesses in ways I’m used to hearing from a lot of extreme metal these days, keeping their songs tight, structured, and internally consistent in a way that gives them a lot of power. Dark Live Magick includes 10 live tracks plus a pair of bonus studio demos to close out side B, including the particularly kick-ass “Lord of the Grave”. This one may be tricky to track down – I couldn’t find any of the songs from this album online (including on Runemagick’s Bandcamp page), and it was only released on vinyl and limited to 300 numbered copies. It apparently included a poster insert, though my copy didn’t come with one. Despite the obvious scarcity you can still find a copy here or there in the $15-30 price range, and frankly I think it’s worth every penny.

(♠) It didn’t.