Death Metal and Me – Memories and Recollections by David Rowley
The first extreme Metal album I remember hearing was Carcass’ ‘Reek of Putrefaction’, this would have been around 1990. At the time I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing…it didn’t quite make sense to me at the time. My metal buddy at school Michael had bought it on cassette one weekend that year and brought it into school on the Monday. I can still remember him passing me the tape in morning assembly, like it was a top-secret document. Looking at the album art, I couldn’t quite make out what I was looking at; at first glance it looked to be a colourful collage of joints of meat and gristle. Upon closer inspection I realised I was actually looking at chopped up body parts, burnt remains and bloated corpses. ‘How can this be allowed’ I thought to myself. I remember his face; he gave me a look as if to say…’wait until you hear it’.
We parted ways after the school assembly and went to our respected lessons; all the while I couldn’t stop thinking about the album cover and what it must sound like. At the time my musical tastes were leaning towards the more and more extreme, and this record definitely LOOKED the most extreme I’d seen.
After double science I ran to our ‘spot’ in the playground for break-time to meet up with Michael and the rest of our metal gang to listen to this record. Sure enough, Michael was stood there, headphones on, waiting with the tape. I shoved it as fast as I could into my Sony Walkman and waited for the music to kick in, and kick in it did! Insane blastbeats, indecipherable vocals, chainsaw riffage…I looked at the track listings to see what I was listening to…. Genital Grinder, Regurgitation of Giblets…What the fuck was this!! Songs lasting no more than two minutes, muddied production…. these weren’t the crisp sounds of the Thrash records we were listening to. But it had something, it sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard in my life before…. and I wanted more!
Before hearing Carcass, I was (and still am) a huge Metallica fan. I’d heard …And Justice for all, and it changed my life forever. Before then my first steps into metal were probably not that uncommon from a lot of Heavy Metal lifers, I got the bug for the heavy stuff after hearing bands like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Skid Row and Aerosmith. I pestered my mum to pick me up a copy of Gun’s N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction from a fly-pitcher at Roman road market in the East End of London after seeing the Paradise City video on TV, and I played it to death. I loved that band so much when I was 12 years old, so much so that I attempted to play ‘Nightrain’ on a Spanish Acoustic in my music class at school. They were dangerous (unlike me and my Spanish Acoustic), and they looked like fucked up alien freakiods from another planet.
Around about the same time our family had a caravan in Whitstable, Kent, a sleepy little fishing village about an hour and a half car ride from London.Famous for its Oysters and being the last home and resting place of Hammer Horror legend, Peter Cushing. We would visit every weekend and on school holidays. I was a 13 year old loner, happy enjoying my own company and listening to music. My parents would leave me to amuse myself, and amuse myself I did. I would ride my mountain bike into town and go straight to the record shop to see what was on offer. I can’t stress how important that shop was tome growing up and to the moulding of my future. The shop was run by two guys, I wish I could remember their names…If I could I would look them up and thank them, shake them by their virtual hands and thank them for the journey they’d helped set me on.
The shop was a small joint in an arcade, wedged between a tattoo parlour and a haberdashery shop. I would trade records and tapes and they would recommend me classic records and tell me tales of their voyages to early Donnington festivals between mouthfuls of Pasties and Fish and Chips. I would spend hours there, flicking through the racks of vinyl and listening to the records they played at deafening levels. The guys didn’t seem to mind having me hang around and would send me out to get them food at lunch times. Looking back, this seems cheeky, but I didn’t mind at all. When I would make my selections and leave, I would go next door to the arcade and spend what little money I had on Golden Axe and Afterburner.
One weekend I picked up a copy of Justice for All by Metallica and Passion and Warfare by guitar virtuoso ‘Steve Vai’. As soon as I heard the dense intro to the opening track ‘Blackened’ I was hooked, I remember sitting in the caravan that Saturday night, my family sitting around me watching whatever was on TV, my headphones on, reading the lyrics…. angry, hateful, full of injustice…. It was amazing. Metallica looked so cool in the album portraits. Wearingall black, unsmiling…. songs about insanity, war, corrupt politicians…a million miles away from the fun, sex fuelled music of Trixter, Poison and Motley Crue I was used too, It was serious, it had a purpose, and they weren’t fucking around. Ultra-tight, Complex riffing, insane drum patterns, songs clocking in at 9 minutes…. this was all completely new to me. From there on in I became a Metallica die-hard. The next week I went back to the record shop and asked what else they had. This was way before the Internet; there was no other way of finding out about a bands back catalogue like you can these days (grumble, grumble…kids of today)! I bought Master of Puppets on Vinyl and a Metallica T-shirt (it came to £6.99 including the two Magnum albums I traded in, I don’t think they wanted them back, but they saw how much I wanted the Metallica swag and cut me some slack).
I wore that t-shirt until it fell apart. It was the now classic Damage Inc shirt with the Pushead design (I still have it, I keep it inside my Metalli-can). I wore it with pride, would get nods from other fans and looks of disgust from the poseurs. I started growing my hair long and dedicating myself to Metal!
Around this time I became good friends with two people at school back in London. Michael and Mark. We bonded over a love of Thrash metal and horror films like the Evil Dead, Dawn of The Dead and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. At the time I was living in Stepney, East London. Michael lived in Mile End, a few minutes up the road and Mark came from Poplar, a mile or so south. We all grew our hair, bought leather biker jackets, and hung out at each other’s houses listening to metal, talking about metal and watching movies till our parents would kick whoever didn’t live there out.
I was a massive Metallica fan, Michael was heavily into Slayer and Mark liked both. We would spend whatever money we had on metal cassettes, taping them off of each other and photocopying the covers at school or at the post office. Michael had a huge drawer in his bedroom where he’d keep his tapes; I was always envious of his filing system. Alphabetical, he had all his ‘copied’ tapes in a separate drawer as to not contaminate the ‘officially’ bought tapes. It looked smart and tidy. He kept knives and weaponry in the drawer underneath.
Every weekend we would jump on the number 25 bus and travel up to the west end of London to visit Shades record shop. Shades is no longer there, it was a basement shop on St Anne’s court in Soho. It was dark and dingy and the best place to get metal. I remember buying Anthrax’s Persistence of Time, Testament’s Souls of Black, Motorhead, Sadus, Kreator, Sodom…. so many great records. Around that time Michael showed up with Carcass and the rest was history. I copied that album and listened to it all the time. The timeline gets a bit foggy after that, but I remember Michael coming out with Brutal Truth’s first record ‘Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses’ and Mark having Sepultura’s ‘Arise’ album. And just like that, we were total Death Metal heads. When I bought Cannibal Corpse’s Butchered at Birth from Shades, it felt like a right of passage. The guy behind the counter actually asked if I was ‘ready for this’ as he stared at the Zombies cutting up a pregnant lady on the now infamous front cover.
Also around this time we naturally decided to form a band, before then the three of us would just headbang in our bedrooms, seems totally strange now…but we did. Someone would pick a song, and we’d just mime along to them playing air-guitar in silence. At the time I had an old Encore acoustic I would play one note riffs on, Michael decided that he would be the guitar player and I would be the bass player. I remember one weekend we all went up to the West End to get Michael’s guitar, he settled on a black BC Rich Warlock with a Floyd Rose, just like his idol Kerry King. We would spend hours looking in the guitar shops and being told to leave by the legendary Denmark Street moody guitar shop assistants.
I still remember myself, Michael and Michael’s mum sitting in the testing room at Rockers on Denmark Street as Michael just hit the strings of the BC Rich whilst the bored store assistant looked on in amusement. He must have thought we were serious, as we’d brought one of our mums with us. A little after that I bought a bass guitar and amp from the Loot paper, it was a Westone Thunder 1…. it was fretless and looked amazing. Realising pretty soon I shouldn’t have bought a fretless bass, I was just starting out, I had no idea where the frets were! I traded it in for a Flying V bass shortly after which was much more suited to our needs.
We would jam at Michaels house, I had quite a powerful Peavey bass amp and Michael had a Marshall combo….. Thinking back we must have made such a racket, and God bless Michael’s mum for putting up with all the shit we must have put her through.
We started learning Slayer and Metallica songs; around that time we started getting into the older, more classic metal bands like Black Sabbath and Venom. Michael had a penchant for the more satanic stuff, following on from Slayer; he got into Bathory, Venom, Pentagram and Celtic Frost. It was around about that time the Carcass Tape showed up, and pretty soon after that we became serious Death metal devotees.
A few things happened after that that cemented our love of the genre. Firstly we all went on a school trip to Berlin with out school. We all roomed together and took a boom box, by this point we were all about 15/16, old enough to drink…. naturally! As soon as we hit the town centre we made enquiries and headed straight for the nearest record shop and stocked up on new releases. I purchased Obituary’s Cause of Death on Vinyl, I can’t remember who got what. But Morbid Angel’s Blessed are the sick was bought and Death’s ‘Human’ album was also in circulation. When we got back, Napalm Death’s Harmony Corruption was purchased, Michael got Deicide’s first record and we all loved it, ‘Dead by Dawn’ by Deicide became a favourite cover of ours.
Around this time we started going to Death Metal concerts. Before then my first gig was UK Blues rock band Thunder at the Hammersmith Odeon (supported by Sweden’s Electric Boys), which my Dad took me to. After that I’d seen Guns N Roses twice at Wembley (supported by NIN, Soundgarden, Faith No More and Skid Row) and Skid Row at the London arena (a venue I would later play with my own band Goodchild). These gigs had all been great, but they were nothing compared to what I was about to see.
At the Marquee we saw Obituary on the Cause of Death tour and they absolutely destroyed the place! The footage is available on youtube here and looks as crazy as it was. This was the first time we were exposed to stage-divingand a mosh pit. At first we weren’t sure what to make of it, but we were soon throwing ourselves off of the stage with reckless abandon like everyone else. That gig was especially memorable, as my mum had forced my cousin Jamie to chaperone me as she thought I was still too young to go on my own. He wore my Metallica Damage Inc shirt and stood shocked by the bar throughout the gig. It was his first, and last Death Metal gig. He’s a forty something painter and decorator, the last album he purchased was Erasure’s ‘Circus’. Poor bastard.
Entombed followed with Dismember, then doom merchants Cathedral. Pretty soon after that we saw Morbid Angel on the Blessed are the sick tour, and then the Gods of Grind with Carcass, Entombed, Cathedral and Confessor. I remember seeing the Godfather of Death Metal, Chuck Schuldinerand Death on their Individual Thought Patterns tour in the early 90’s supported by romantic doom merchants, Anathema. We saw Deicide play just after the bomb-scare incident in Europe where they had a floor to ceiling chain-mail fence in front of the stage, which was amazing as it only added to the chaotic stage diving that took place. After that followed Carcass and Death again, Nuclear Assault, Kreator and Raven, Overkill, Prong, Life of Agony (not a death metal band, but with a name like that they should be, they were amazing) Entombed and Neurosis…
I remember seeing Cradle of Filth before they had their first record out at the Dublin Castle in Camden at something called a ‘Black Metal’ all day festival. More on this later, but that was the seed that got Michael on a massive Black Metal tip.
Not long after that Michael and I went to Camden again to see an all day Death metal festival with Canada’s Gorguts headlining. Although we were serious Death Metal heads, we also took time out to see Pantera, NIN, Ministry, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Slayer and Metallica as often as we could, I have great memories of that time. We also caught Biohazard at the Marquee with Sick of it All and Downset, I even got my ticket signed by the members of nearly all the bands. The NIN set was a particular highlight as it was a sell-out and they were really blowing up around that time. I remember a bunch of disgruntled fans storming the doors and managing to get inside the old Town and Country club. Police and security roamed the inside of the venue with flashlights trying to find the culprits, adding to the intense performance of Trent and his band. Every now and then you’d see a fan being pulled out in a headlock, screaming…. how they managed to identify the guilty door rushers is beyond me.
Not long after we got our band together, we started rehearsing at a local Church where Michael’s dad worked as a sort of Caretaker. He would let us set up and play for a few hours twice a week whilst he did whatever work he needed to do. Around this time we’d enlisted one of Michael’s friend’s Glen to our ranks on the drums. He had his own kit, was very tall and built and looked mean as fuck, he was later jailed for cashing fraudulent cheques...He would always walk around Poplar with his ‘Jesus is a Cunt’ Cradle of Filth T-shirt, scaring old ladies, but that’s another story. He was into Death metal as well as a new type of music that started creeping in to our listening time…. Black Metal.
Bands like Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor, Dark Throne and Immortal were becoming firm favourites with Michael and Glen. He would tape trade with guys in Norway and play us these crude TDK90’s with their demo’s, he’d also managed to acquire a few VHS tapes featuring video’s of these guys on wind swept mountains, faces covered in the now familiar corpse paint, screaming into the Norwegian darkness. The rest of the band dismissed it, but Michael was deeply affected by this new and extreme music. He would tell us tales of Church burnings in Bergen, Count Grishnackt and Euronymous… the whole thing seemed too crazy…even for us.
Also around this time we landed our first gig! We were all pretty nervous, as we didn’t really know how to play that well. We were allocated fifteen minutes at our friend Lee Adshead’s 18th Birthday party, which was being held at a local Rock pup called the Steamship; it had a stage and a PA and was going to be packed with our friends and family. We decided to play four cover versions. Seek and Destroy by Metallica, Paranoid by Black Sabbath, South of Heaven by Slayer and Breed by Nirvana. The last choice was mine and the rest of the guys didn’t like it one bit. I remember them playing the first couple of verses and then they’d all just stop in disgust and mutter under their breath about them being shit and not Metal.
We decided to enlist the help of another metal head at school, Chris Smith. I never really liked the guy, he was a moaner…. always complaining about this and that. He had a constant ‘downer’ vibe about him, but he was a great guitar player and would beef our sound up. He had a Les Paul…. a real one! As well as a decent amp and a few pedals. At the time we didn’t have a singer, a guy called Jimmy who Michael knew would sometimes growl for us as he had a Microphone which he would plug into an old Fender practice amp. But he was a drunk and unreliable, he would never show up for rehearsals so we kicked him out of the band. It was decided that I would sing as I was playing the bass, which was the easiest of the instruments, so I could also handle the singing. I wasn’t that keen as I’d never sang before, but I agreed and started singing at rehearsals through Jimmy’s old Mic and amp which he’d left with us. It sounded okay, the natural reverb of the Church worked well and we were starting to sound pretty decent. We stole a Mic stand from the School music room one Friday, I folded it up and stuck it down my trouser leg and smuggled it out that way, limping through the school gates. I still have it, and use it to this day!
The gig went very well and to our surprise, we were regarded as the best band of the night, it wasn’t saying much…the gig was opened by the guitarist in the headlining band’s girlfriend. She was part of a sixth form poetry duo…they read two poems whilst a guy strummed a guitar and projected photographs onto an old bed sheet taped to the wall behind. It was awful. The place was full of drunken rockers who wanted to slam; they didn’t want to hear poetry and sensitive songs about this poor girls emotions at all.
We were on next, we opened with Seek and Destroy and it sounded amazing. We’d never played through proper amps before, let alone a PA and it sounded brutal. I was self conscious about singing so I sang pretty far back from the Mic, but the crowd said they couldn’t hear me, so I sang nearer and I didn’t get hit with anything, so I suppose you could call it a success. The gig flew by and we were met with lots of pats on the back and high fives….’you guys were amazing’ and ‘I didn’t know you were so heavy, do you have a demo?’. The praise and the sound we created set the seed for me, which this is what I wanted to do with my life.
Not long after the gig, the band split up. Michael had become totally obsessed with Black Metal. So much so that he’d got the bands Mayhem and Immortal tattooed on his arms, he’d also branded himself with a hot knife, a Pentagram on his forearm, and an upside down cross on the other. He’d painted his bedroom completely black, and fitted in red light bulbs where he could.
Whenever we’d get together to rehearse. We’d sit in the darkness and listen to the latest black metal he’d got at full volume and not play at all. We’d started to smoke a lot of weed by this point and drink super strength lager like Special brew and super Tenants. Michael wanted to change direction of our band and have us play more Black Metal type music. I wasn’t into that at all, and after a few rehearsals said I was leaving. It’s not that I didn’t agree with his new change of interests, I just thought the music was pretty weak. We were just starting to sound really brutal and guttural. The high-end shriek of Black Metal just didn’t appeal to me and sounded silly taken out of its natural Norwegian birthplace.
He also started hanging around with a weird, new crowd, which is saying a lot considering what we looked like. They’d all come over to Michael’s house with weapons concealed underneath their full-length leather jackets and their faces painted like corpses...as if they were preparing for an Orc attack in East London. It was ridiculous seeing as these people were all from nice middle class families, the children of Michael’s church going parents. It was a real shame because Michael was a really great guy; a sensitive soul and his parents were good people. It was horrible watching him become totally consumed by this music that he loved so much in such a negative way.
I never saw Michael again after that, but I later heard that he had sorted himself out; he’d met a girl and got married. Found God again and was playing in Christian Death Metal band called Bloodwork. I checked them out and they’re pretty good. Touring and making CD’s, building a following on the underground scene.
I went on to college and met new people, got into different music and went on my own path to where I am now. I look back on those years, 1989 to 1995 with such fond memories. The music, being in a band, feeling part of a tribe. Being carefree, not having the stress and responsibility of a job. Just totally absorbing myself in the music and doing what I loved doing.
It was a crying shame to see the Marquee and the Astoria on Charing Cross Road close their doors to the public. I have so many fond memories of seeing so many amazing bands play there. Going to Metalheads on Carnaby Street to buy band T-Shirts and talk to Hector about new releases and bands we’d seen. Good times.
And now I’ve come full circle. It’s only recently from meeting the Chief metal Muppet himself and my new best friend, Matt ‘Boojay’ Budgett, that I’ve rediscovered so many great albums and bands, the man has an unparalleled knowledge of the scene, unlike anyone I’ve ever met, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know him. We realised that we attended the same gigs, listened to the same albums at the same time. Started bands and shared so many experiences without actually knowing each other. Yes our paths must have crossed on so many occasions.
I personally don’t think Death Metal has ever got close to those glory days of 89 to 95; it was totally new to us. The music was brutal and uncompromising and I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of it again. But saying that, the scene is still there, and in some ways more popular now and stronger than it has ever been.
Festering in the darkness, Veteran Bands like Obituary, Immolation, Hate Eternal, Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus, Napalm Death and Vader are still releasing killer albums. Whilst bands like Cynic and Pestilence are getting back together and touring their unique brand of Death Metal again. People will always find a new take on Death metal, the music may be more technical, more brutal, faster and heavier now, but the essence is still the same.
As the Morbid Angel T-shirt says, Extreme Music for Extreme people.