With the second full length from Unmerciful now out to the masses (covered here) I couldn’t help but think about the band’s label, Unique Leader Records. Mostly because I haven’t consistently frequented their wares in a few years but there was a time the label was ground zero for my desire to find the most brutal sounding death metal around, not to mention some of the most technical as well. Some of my favorite releases reside with this label and had it not been for them I would have missed out on an integral piece of my metal history. The label has never lost sight of their original vision and has continued to be a benchmark for the extreme sector of death metal. You can connect with their label on Bandcamp, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or their third-party merch website.
Unique Leader is based out of Los Osos, California and was formed somewhat out of necessity for the members of Deeds Of Flesh. In 1998 and after their second full length came out the band lost their contract with Repulse Records (extinct). Not content with trying to find another label they decided to start their own and ever since they have been home to some of the most brutal and technical death metal found anywhere. With an extensive list of current and former bands the label has amassed close to 200 releases over the years. So for this Nine Circles Ov… I’m taking a look at 9 of my favorite tracks from 9 of my favorite albums, in sequential order, released on the label and subsequently albums I return to on a regular basis to this day. In no way is this meant to be a “best of” for Unique Leader as that list would be enough to fill up at least 10 or more of these columns.
Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments section if you’re so inclined.
Deeds Of Flesh – “Sense Of the Diabolic” (Path Of the Weakening, 1999)
Of course since Deeds Of Flesh started the label it’s only fitting they get the first release and Path Of the Weakening was a beast. Relentless blast beats, down and dirty guitar work, and guttural vocals that sound every bit like the horrors conjured by their brand of brutality. And all this was before brutal had anything to do with slam metal. This would mark the beginning of a still going career for Deeds Of Flesh as well as an earmark release for the label.
Disgorge – “She Lay Gutted” (She Lay Gutted, 1999)
Following close behind the label’s inception was Disgorge’s second full length filled to the brim with gore and depravity. This track was the first I heard from the album and what struck me was the Mortician like vocals and the absolute disregard of what they put on an album cover or what depths they dared tread in their lyrics. Now remember, this was a time when I was seeking out the next level of extreme and Disgorge more than fit the bill. With constant ear battering drumming and tempo changes that hit double digits their sound kept you off balance and unsure of what to expect next.
Disavowed – “Masses Conformed” (Perceptive Deception, 2001)
While Disavowed was definitely in the brutal camp they also experimented a little with the technical side as well. Sounding like an early Deicide during their slower chunky moments and early Cryptopsy at full speed, the songwriting is near bulletproof. Riffs come in waves but it’s the madman style vocals that put the nail in the coffin so to speak and as I recall this was some of the most feral sounding vocals I had heard to date. A classic if there ever was one.
Vile – “Unit 731” (Depopulate, 2002)
The time I spent with this album can be measured in years and not just a standard album cycle. This track stands out the most as I remember thinking the song title was as cold as a dark cellar hosting a horrendous scene straight out of a horror film. Vile always had a distinct groove that was catchy as well as addictive and this track is one of the best on the album. Slithering in and out of blasting sections and hulkingly massive doomy bridges the band truly hit their stride here. They’ve since moved on to melodic death metal but this album, to me, stands as their finest moment and this track in particular is the highlight.
Spawn Of Possession – “Dirty Priest” (Cabinet, 2003)
Spawn Of Possession successfully ushered in extreme technicality to the label. They may not have been the first but they were the best at it. The dizzying array of extremely difficult bass guitar leads and wild soloing sounded like something from outer space and reminded me of Gorguts and how they very effectively could do things with death metal that no one had heard or even thought of. Cabinet is still a favorite for me as it stands as one of the most enjoyable technical releases that exists on the label.
Severed Savior – “Unholy Member” (Brutality Is Law, 2003)
The album name pretty much gives away its contents but it gives no real idea as to how massive this album is. Think Cannibal Corpse meets early Incantation and you get the picture. This track is an onslaught of inhuman drumming with some of the nastiest death metal riffs of that year. The vocalist didn’t have much of a range but when you’re going for the most sick and vile he clearly hits the mark and doesn’t need to noodle at all. For whatever reason it took me an eternity to get a hold of this release and I still have my original copy to this day, put away for safekeeping of course.
Beheaded – “Conceived To Dominate” (Ominous Bloodline, 2005)
Beheaded walk a fine line between being brutal and being technical to the point of overdoing it. But, on this release they dance perfectly on this line and released a sort of thinking man’s death metal album. It’s definitely not one to replay for hours on end but it is an awe inspiring display of meaty chords and alien like solos. Beheaded, particularly on this track, pushed the boundaries set by Spawn Of Possession into new territories and directions. After all, progression was the name of the game for them to stay fresh and relevant in an ever-growing pile of technical bands.
Unmerciful – “Legion Of Sickness” (Unmercifully Beaten, 2006)
What? Surely you didn’t think I’d do this list without including the one band that gave me the idea for this piece did you? Right on. Unmerciful seemingly grew up on the kind of metal that Unique Leader offered in the early 2000’s and very efficiently combine the brutality and technicality in letter perfect form. When the drums get rolling they sound like machine gun fire on the battlefield. Midway through this track the band slow it down with groove centric riffing, but by no means are we talking stoner grooves. Put it this way, I can only imagine the kind of pit this band would incite at their shows.
Lecherous Nocturne – “Just War Theory” (The Age Of Miracles Has Passed, 2008)
Because this is my list I saved the best and one of my all time favorite releases for last. Lecherous Nocturne is a band I had followed religiously — mainly because along with Nile, they were one of the best local bands to come out of my neck of the woods in a long time — and when it was announced they had signed to Unique Leader Records I was beyond stoked for them. With their label debut and second full length overall, they shattered any expectations I had leading up to getting my hands on the album. Their sheer wall of sound approach fills every inch of space in the room. They had the intensity of Behemoth but also had a savage approach to their songwriting. This track opens the album on an immense note with relentless death metal that is as hard hitting as Krisiun but as cerebral as Immolation. Unfortunately this was the last album with vocalist Jason Hohenstein, who to me had become the heart and soul of the band. When their third full length came out in 2013 it didn’t grab me so I would return again and again to this one. If you’ve never heard this album I highly suggest you grab a copy and see for yourself. One spin of “Just War Theory” and I can assure you’ll be hooked.
All of these releases are available on Unique Leader Records.