Mantas – Death By Metal Review

Behold the birth of Death

In 1984, future Death-mates Chuck Schuldiner, Kam Lee and Rick Rozz released the five-song Death By Metal demo under their original name of Mantas. Now, nearly thirty years later, Relapse has expanded that original release by an additional nine tracks – mostly different versions of the same songs, some labeled as “Death By Metal Demo Version 2” and others taken from a 1984 rehearsal demo. Death By Metal was a building block in the growth of extreme metal, the first official recording of Evil Chuck before he split up Mantas to form Death (with both Lee and Rozz in tow, before they broke off to form Massacre). As you’d expect, Death By Metal is death metal in embryonic form, pushing past the boundaries of thrash and helping to lay the foundation for a new genre with every riff and growl.

It’s important, influential, and it’s also nearly impossible to listen to.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the cassette era will remember the depreciation of sound with each successive copy, and Death By Metal sounds like one of those dubbed-and-redubbed cassettes we passed around way back in the day. It’s muddy, distant, squished. The guitars are sometimes an indistinct buzz, with often only the corners of the riffs poking out while most everything else gets lost in the mire; the drums are a crashing cacophony, fighting with the guitars for what little sonic space exists; Kam Lee’s vocals are guttural growls, again muddy and compressed. The latter half of the disc – the material added to the original Death By Metal demo – fares better, but none of this is produced well, or really produced at all. It’s a low-budget demo from the early 1980s, and not at all surprisingly, it sounds like a low-budget demo from the early 1980s. On the creative front, the songs are fun, and the riffs are both thrashy and thrashing – what bits of them can be discerned through the wash certainly hint at the greatness to come, with an early version of Scream Bloody Gore’s “Evil Dead” among the highlights.

It’s been over a decade since we lost Chuck Schuldiner to brain cancer, and it’s a testament to the man’s metal that we’re still hungry for all things Death related. Relapse has done an excellent job in plundering the Schuldiner vaults of late – their expanded editions of Human, Individual Thought Patterns, and The Sound Of Perseverance managed the near-impossible and actually improved upon three of the best records in the history of extreme metal. This unearthing of Mantas’ three-decade old demo continues the celebration of Death, and in truth, this is not a release designed for daily listening and intense scrutiny. This one’s for the historians – it’s a look backwards to a moment in time when three kids from Florida helped to change metal forever. I’m an ardent collector and an avid metal historian, and as such, I’m happy to have an actual copy of Death By Metal sitting on my shelf. But I have to admit that I won’t spin this one often. I’m glad it’s on the shelf, and on the shelf is where it will stay while I sit over here and crank up Scream Bloody Gore again…

It’s also worth noting that there is a further expanded edition of Death By Metal, a 2-CD version that includes another rehearsal demo. My promotional copy did not include the second disc, so I cannot comment upon its quality. The absolute die-hard collector will likely want to track down the entire package.

Posted by Andrew Edmunds

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; born in the cemetery, under the sign of the MOOOOOOON...

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