Originally written by Ian Chainey
Stick with me on this one.
So, I had this dream. In this dream, I’m driving around with my lone metal friend (Reality: I don’t have friends) and we’re listening to the “ultimate” reissue of Impetigo’s Horror of the Zombies (Reality: The album has been remastered with two bloodthirsty live tracks tacked on the end. Does that make it the ultimate issue? Up to you). Just when I was about to drop some serious knowledge on my buddy (Examples: “Check out the groove that kicks in on “Defiling the Grave” at 2:29. Cock and Ball Torture has made a career out of that!” or “Is it just me, or does the beginning of “Trap Them And Kill Them” sound like a Cro-Mags riff?”), my friend voiced his displeasure:
“Why are you listening to this old shit?”
Why…am…I listening to this…old shit?
“You stupid Freudian figment,” I said, “it’s the legendary Impetigo, the band that genre elders would beat you into a pulp for besmirching. Goregrind gods to those that didn’t become obsessed with Carcass’ pathology slant, bringers of the movie sample intro, and those that were purveyors of the horror-influenced schlock n’ awe strategy long before labels like Razorback Records (who, I might add, are the best label to put this reissue out. Bands, fans, and staff live and breath this album) came into existence! It’s an entire album of classic death riffing, insane gurgling and growling, and perfect and simplistic drumming! Old shit? Old shit?! OLD SH-”
And then I was attacked by a bear wearing a pointy party hat and crashed into a bus full of naked nuns that all looked like my sister. I don’t know what that means.
When I awoke though (“Whoa…someone was in my car…and I didn’t have to pay them!“), the line that triggered my rant stuck out and echoed throughout my head for the rest of the day. Why? Because I realized that my imaginary pal had exhibited one of the same problems that I used to have regarding older tunes: if you’re a fan of the new, taking the old into context is damn difficult (perspective just ain’t the youth’s thang). Here’s what I mean:
Fifteen years ago, Horror of the Zombies debuted. Now, debuted to what reaction I can’t tell you, because fifteen years ago my greatest concern was figuring out a way to be purposely eliminated early from the second grade spelling bee so I could continue daydreaming about bagging buffalo on Oregon Trail. Predictably, down the line, when I finally heard Impetigo, I had already been exposed to everything that came after them (rarely do you discover a genre by starting at act 1, scene 1, you know?), so it was tough to wring enjoyment out of something that I found to be so basic, filled with old ideas that had been recycled throughout this type of death metal slash goregrind since, well, Horror of the Zombies. I mean, my prime “I was a teenage goregrinder!” years were during the age of the blast-happy (Last Days of Humanity) and the two-ton porn-groovers (the aforementioned Cock and Ball Torture), those that took what they needed from the sickos from Illinois, added their own spin, and brought everything up a few notches. You know, part of that age-old rock trend of turning what came before you into something harder, heavier, faster, etc. so your band can survive and prosper in the current times (Heavy Metal Darwinism? Maybe). Listening to an “I Work For The Street Cleaner” or a “Breakfast At The Manchester Morgue (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie…)” proved incredibly difficult because they were slow n’ simple, almost playing out like relics from a bygone era. Of course, I was measuring a moment in time, a landmark, against those farther along the evolutionary scale, those that had years to break down and fully understand that landmark’s excellence and to update it for the “modern” age (I rationalized it like this: Tommy Heinsohn in his prime vs. LeBron James in his prime in one-on-one. Not fair. At all).
Granted, for most, even though it has been remastered (Guitars and vocals are higher in the mix, drums have lost some punch), the simplicity, and the fact that Horror of the Zombies sounds a bit dated (that’s part of the appeal, if you ask moi), will now obscure what clever bastards Impetigo were when it came to crafting songs. After the faster (and nuttier) Ultimo Mondo Cannibale (itself a deft merging of early, speedy grind and death, complete with the then still-fresh vestiges of thrash and hardcore), the band got slower, more deliberate, and more repetitive on Horror, trading most of the grind for heavy and dirty death riffs (The speed is still pops up though, adding that much needed contrast). In a way, that helped Impetigo become more memorable, noting that–like how critics regarded the work of an elderly Louis Armstrong–it wasn’t about how fast you could play, but the notes you hit (And thus ends the only sentence in the history of the universe where both names appear together). With the drive dialed back to a comparative crawl at points, they were more mindful of how the riffs would be listened to and their place in the music. It’s no surprise then, that they turned out some absolute doozies; riffs that were like the audio representation of a deranged psycho creeping and crawling through a bloodstained slaughterhouse, riffs that, basically, were like metal conversions of not only the soundtracks, but the stories to the sickest of horror/exploitation flicks that they watched and then sampled. But, it’s not just the riffs that work, it’s the entire songs themselves with dead-on pacing that makes tracks like the seven minute “Breakfast At The Manchester Morgue” feel like half that. Of course, the sheer listenability of the composition has something to do with that too. The song is a gloriously zombie-rich tale with a riff so imbedded in the conscious of most metalheads, it‘s damn near startling to hear it in an early form. Add in that the overblown silliness slash over-the-topness of the lyrics mirrors our love of cheap gore flicks–where brain matter splatter trumps coherent storylines and every illogical move by the main character is worth a chuckle and a chug (“She went back into the house! Take a shot!” Just me?)–and it‘s easy to understand why Horror of the Zombies has been bumped up to classic status by all those who have followed.
So, once you disregard your previous expectations and you stop holding Horror of the Zombies to today’s standards, and actually start listening, you realize why this album has seen two reissues in the past decade and why most have bronzed this bitch and inducted it into the death metal hall o’ fame. It’s not a boring/stuffy historical document because the atmosphere it creates and the kicked-in-the-gut, I’m-going-to-be-sick feeling it evokes is still unparalleled by any band that has used this album as a blueprint. And that’s a lot of bands (Impetigo maybe even foresaw the future with the final three lines of “Breakfast”: “The beginning of a horrifying day/ No end in sight/ Our numbers multiply…” Cool). I almost see Impetigo now as one of the stages of formation that you inevitably go through if you’re a goregrind band (almost like those diagrams of how we look through the stages of birth. Impetigo would be the tadpole-looking stage) and, when you think about it, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.
But, and I’m speaking to the fresh-faced nouveux metaller here, know full well that while I’m telling you (begging you) to check this out because of its immense worth, not only as an important piece of the past but as a damn enjoyable listen, that I was once in your shoes. Realize that there was a time when I didn’t get it either, so I’m certainly not trying to position myself above you by conforming to a typical elitist metal stance. All I’m trying to say is this: I didn’t need some Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-like revelation to come to my senses (“Why, the grail isn’t this ornate and beautiful (new) chalice, it’s Christ’s sippy cup! Of course! Silly Nazi!”), it just took a subtle shift in how I listened to albums that predated my time of being conscious of metal (In this case, just taking into account the bigger picture). That’s all, and thanks to Razorback, it’s now easy to find why so many swear by Horror of the Zombies. Give it a shot.