5 Killer Cuts of NY Death Metal with Cody Drasser of Afterbirth
New York brutal death legends Afterbirth have risen from the grave, and their new album, The Time Traveler’s Dilemma, literally crushed my dick. So, I asked guitarist Cody Drasser to give me the rundown on the NYDM classics that shaped his killer riffs. Get in here for some of the nastiest slams this side of Long Island.
Cody Drasser: Recently, I was asked by the fine folks at Toilet Ov Hell if I’d write an article revolving around some of my favorite death metal releases from the New York & Long Island areas. My mind reeled in the best possible ways, and I jumped at the chance to express some long held opinions on music that has been of some significance to me. I originally had many grand ideas, replete with endless lists and extensive writings and musings on both established and obscure bands showcasing my exhaustive knowledge of all things death metal from the area (NOT!). Alas, the daily pressures of family life, my work schedule and the demands, small though they may be, of being in Afterbirth forced me to reassess what I’d actually have time to sit down and write about. My list ended up being a brief account of bands that, in one way or another, brought enjoyment and/or influence for me early on in Afterbirth’s first, short-lived phase of existence. We’re talking a long time ago here friends, almost three decades to be exact, and the punishing reality that this span of time is in some cases older than a lot of ToH readers is not entirely lost on me.
Age and the many long years aside, the important thing here is that music contained on these albums and demos had an impact on me, either in terms of the music I wanted to write with my own band or that they left an impression on me in regards to where my mind was at during the time Afterbirth was first coming into being. Included here are not only some obvious fan-favorites, known the world over and hailed as some of the best death metal to ever be created, let alone created in my backyard practically, but also lesser-known acts as well as some bands that may be completely unknown to the average reader. Regardless of the circle of influence and infamy a band on this list may have, I chose to include music that was actually pivotal and motivating for me in one way or another rather than search through a list of the most obscure and underrated LI/NY death metal bands ever formed to garner some short-lived internet credibility and death metal brownie points. It’s way easier to write straight from the heart on matters so dear to me so I went with that and my gut instincts on this one. While there are definitely more albums and demos that I wanted to write about that have meant the world to me, I kept it at an abbreviated list of only 5 bands for streamlining purposes. Yes, I, like you dear reader, also have the attention span of a goldfish when reading articles on the internet and wanted to hold your interest for as long as possible. With all that being said, I’m thrilled to be able to share some of the music that mattered to me in those formative years and hope that you either nod in agreement/disagreement with my sentiments on a longtime favorite or possibly come to learn about a band that you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing before. Cheers and enjoy.
Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
What can be said about this genre-defining album that hasn’t already been said one way or another since it was released 25+ years ago? I’ll spare you a needlessly complex and endless string of adjectives describing it and simply say that it’s easily one of the crowning jewels of the brutal/technical death metal genre. The sound and feel of the album is still yet to be surpassed and in that way it has always seemed “futuristic” to me; while many bands since have come up with inspiring, dizzying and downright awesome versions of this strain of death metal, those albums and bands that came after will never quite be able to touch the mastery that this album has achieved. It’s really simply a matter of Suffocation existing at the right time and the right place during the creation of this album and Effigy Of The Forgotten essentially existing as the singularity in the big bang creation of a brutal/technical death metal universe.
Pyrexia – Sermon of Mockery
While not exactly an album that has been passed over or left to rot in an underappreciated tomb of death metal relics (indeed, it has been reissued a number of times, been seen on countless “best of” lists throughout the years and touted as inspiration for many death metal musicians the world over), Sermon Of Mockery still seems to be relegated to what feels like a “2nd place” status in comparison to Suffocation’s Effigy Of The Forgotten. (If you think that Pyrexia ripped off or copied anything from Suffocation, then you haven’t done your homework to understand why they both share such musically similar DNA). What a shame that is though since this album can naturally and easily stand alongside the aforementioned album’s bludgeoning onslaught with its own abominable complexity. Sermon Of Mockery oftentimes easily outwits it with its own unique sound, creative riffing and insidiously evil visions of demonic beings dispensing out hellishly endless torture as they lord over fields of raped and fallen angels. In truth, this album is consistently more sinister and wicked in nature than almost anything that’s ever come out of the NY/LI area; it not only seems like the band really feels this way and wants the entire world to perish in eternal agony – that is palpable enough – but its anti-religious/fire-and-brimstone themes are so consistently woven into every song that it creates a frighteningly cohesive tapestry of iniquity from beginning to end that’s largely unmatched today.
Necrosys – Eternally Hanging Dead (Demo)
Necrosys was a virtually unknown band from Long Island, NY in the early/mid-90s. A deadly five-piece who utilized a dual guttural/shriek vocal attack, the powerful vocals were backed by appropriately old school, razor-sharp guitar riffs, frenetic and powerful drumming as well as melodic and progressive bass playing that figured prominently in their sound. At the time, they were one of the most unique bands in the area and I’m proud to say that Afterbirth knew them personally; what set them apart from other area bands at the time was not only the dual vocal attack – something already seen in internationally established bands like Carcass and Dying Fetus but not in any band from Long Island – but also that they had little to do with the “slam” style of the region (made popular by the great Internal Bleeding), nor did they rely on technical riffing or lean too heavily on blast beats (as propounded by the aforementioned Suffocation and Pyrexia). Necrosys chose instead to create an uncommon breed of relentless and grisly atmosphere by shackling robust, powerful, hyperactive death metal to truly sickening images of mass carnage and autopsies gone wrong. To hear Necrosys is to feel that you are witnessing something truly awful occur in an abandoned morgue, and running the other way would be the best thing to do (but being inexplicably compelled to hang around and participate in whatever gruesome crimes are being perpetrated might also cross your mind). When I listen to their old demos it comes with many a fond memory of having spent good times with the band both onstage and off as well as a slight pang that the spark that Necrosys ignited on LI in the early 90s never turned into the raging fire that everyone hoped it would. The fact that they were not more widely recognized outside of LI or given the chance to achieve a greater level of notoriety on the world stage is something I’ve never quite been able to understand, though a sub-par sound on their demos and the unfortunate death of guitarist Brian Flannagan might have been contributing factors to their untimely demise. While it might be to the detriment of the larger death metal community that they never made more of an impact than they did, it’s to my own personal joy, and the joy of a handful of others who knew them, that they existed and created such intense and memorable music in the first place.
Candiria – Subliminal (Demo)
Early on in Afterbirth’s short-lived first phase, we played a large metal festival in Queens, NY that featured many well known and lesser-known bands of the time. Without being negative, most of these bands, while good in their own right, were more or less your standard death metal fare and, at the end of the day, not that memorable. Of the few bands that stood out, Candiria was most definitely the most unique and iconic. At a time when the majority of blasting and grunting death metal from NY was either coming out of the suburbs of Long Island or north of Manhattan, Candiria had their origins in Brooklyn – a place more notable for hardcore stalwarts Biohazard or the gothic metal, Sabbath-worshipping Type O Negative – and were immediately hailed for being a noteworthy band cut from a very different cloth. Eschewing the typical sounds of the era, Candiria favored jazz-influenced rhythms over blast beats, and embraced hardcore influenced, angular guitar riffs over tremolo picked fret board pyrotechnics. While vocalist and lyricist Carley Coma could be said to have a singing style that followed a somewhat familiar bark/growl delivery, his delivery and approach were both obviously hip hop-inspired. All of this conspired to allow Candiria to effortlessly stand out in ways that many bands of the era struggled to emulate. Their first few albums of genius, off-kilter, urban-inspired death metal (complete with eerie, ambient passages that’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end) were a revelation and an inspiration to me (and probably many others). It was a revelation simply because it was like nothing else I, or anyone else, could have imagined and therefore a tremendous breath of fresh air in a genre that had been putrefying for a good six or seven years already. It was an inspiration for the fact that it allowed me to realize that I didn’t necessarily have to adhere to any rigid notions of what death metal could or could not be. In a time when every other band from the area either wanted to be Suffocation or Incantation, Candiria stood out from the crowd without even trying, and while their musical path has taken them far, far away from their roots, their earlier material (and even some recent output I admit) continues to inspire and remains a beloved part of my music collection.
Embrionic Death – Regurgitate The Dead (Demo)
A lesser-known (but not totally obscure) act that also hailed from the east end of Long Island in the early 90s, Embrionic Death played a simplistic but brutally effective and creepy form of death metal. Afterbirth’s original vocalist Matt Duncan handed me their demo after one of our first meetings and urged me to listen to it, insisting that I would like it a lot. He wasn’t wrong; I listened to it many times that disgustingly humid summer of Afterbirth’s creation and was moved by their straightforward, no-frills take on what was still barely being called “brutal” or “slam” death metal at the time. Though it was atypical of the NY sound, somewhat repetitive in nature and not nearly the complicated unit the band would become almost overnight on their exploratory, Demilich-meets-Death inspired Stream Of Solidarity demo, there was something dark and moving on the Regurgitate The Dead demo that had an atmosphere of eerie morbidity that wasn’t present in too many other Long Island death metal bands. While the majority of Long Island death metal bands were intent on laying it on thick with blasting drum beats and towering walls of guitar lunacy, Embrionic Death (don’t get me wrong, the band also had more than their fair share of blast beats and massive guitar riffs) seemed just as content to engage in a bit of atmosphere by employing slower doom riffs layered with the occasional ghoulish guitar lead or the appearance of a gooey bass intro to change up the pace. Maybe it was the savage heat and humidity of the summer that made me feel like I was swimming in disgusting ooze, but the vile and odious sound that Embrionic Death were bringing to the table was also surely responsible for how gross I felt when listening to the demo. Though they called Long Island home, Embrionic Death seemed to have just as much in common with European/British death metal sounds as they did with the North American sound. While I am quite positive that the young band members were influenced by the bigger LI/NY names, it seems to me that bands like Carcass, General Surgery and Entombed were just as important an influence as a band like Suffocation, Internal Bleeding or Death.
Many thanks to Cody for this crazy list! I’ve certainly never heard a few of these! Don’t forget to check out the new Afterbirth record via Unique Leader! Follow the band on Facebook while you’re at it!