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Impaled's Death After Life opens with a snappy, synth-driven introduction reminiscent of B-movie parodies like The Man With Two Brains or Re-Animator -- just one of numerous clever vignettes (others being "Theatre of Operations," "The Dead Shall Dead Remain") adding a little fun and humor to what, by any other measure, would be downright grotesque proceedings. Such is the nature of the band's stock and trade, however: a stomach-turning gore-death style established over the course of three increasingly disturbing and disgusting albums and EPs. Unfortunately, take away this bloody dressing, and the band's salad invariably turns out to be a little less than satiating. Although rarely short of enthusiastic aggression or clinical (pun intended) performance accuracy, tracks like "Wrought in Hell," "Resurrectionists" and "Critical Condition" nevertheless fail to take full possession of the listener's cranial lobe; and truly memorable, more inventive riff-fests such as the classic death-recalling "Gutless" or the insistently slicing "Dead Alive" prove to be exceptions, not the rule. Furthermore, one has to wonder if similarly middle-of-the-road offerings like the raging "Mondo Medicale" and "Medical Waste" are actually leftovers of the earlier albums bearing their names. It's impossible to know for sure, but, as Death After Life nears a close on yet another one of those amusing theatrical asides (the eerie "Coda Morte"), one feels that, were these and the band's unerringly gross lyrics to be amputated, Impaled's remains would be exposed as a limited and, heh-heh, incomplete death metal carcass.
With the doctrine "No synthesizers, no female vocals, no f**king compromises!" proudly scrawled upon its sleeve, Tsjuder's third album, 2004's Desert Northern Hell, irrevocably proclaims its allegiance to black metal's rude, crude, austere golden age from roughly ten-years earlier. Which is to say there's none of that new age, high-falutin, symphonic s**t cluttering the work of these Norwegian noise terrorists. No sir, just brutalizing sonic hatred reaching way back to legendary compatriots Darkthrone and Mayhem, and beyond to primordial giants like Bathory, Hellhammer and, of course, the big twisted daddies of them all: Venom. As such, Desert Northern Hell is a mixed blessing (or curse, as it were) for extreme metal fans and the members of Tsjuder, as well, since it's quite evident they are consciously forcing themselves to work within their chosen genre's time-proven, but very limited stylistic boundaries. To that end, frantic, blackened thrashers like "Malignant Coronation," "Lord of Swords," "Helvete," and a cover of Venom's warhorse "Sacrifice" (no surprise there), are at once breathtaking and borderline repetitive, relying on above average riffs to mostly sway them -- just barely -- into the former category. Much better are those tracks where Tsjuder allow themselves just the tiniest of space in which to maneuver -- tracks like the mold-bending "Mouth of Madness" and the epic "Morbid Lust," with their seemingly endless series of variously paced power chords unfolding from section to section. Along with the album's other more daring efforts -- namely the irresistible tandem of "Ghoul" and "Unholy Paragon," which ingeniously utilize malevolent and distinctive minor key melodies to alternately reign in and speed each song on its fiery descent to Hell -- these help drive home the point that variety is a good thing -- even in old-school black metal. Therefore, listeners looking for groundbreaking sonic achievements would do better to look elsewhere, while black metal purists simply looking for the fastest one-way ticket to the nether regions below will find that Tsjuder and Desert Northern Hell are exactly what they're looking for.
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