Nine Circles ov…Divebomb Records

tribunal, dive-bomb records

It’s August, which I feel is enough time to start building the argument that one of the releases destined to end up on my 2020 EOY list is a compilation of demos that were originally released in 1990.  One of my “safe places” during this shitstorm that is the current world politic has been retreating to the sounds that made me fall in love with metal, metal that moved beyond the hairspray and whirlwind solos that attracted me in the first place.

With that in mind, I want to focus this edition of Nine Circles ov… on the absolute treasure trove that is Divebomb Records (not to mention parent company Tribunal Records).  The work they’re doing releasing obscure and oftentimes unrecognized early metal gems—not to mention some great packaging when it comes to physical releases—has been exemplary, and the chance to highlight some of the many, many great pieces I’ve found digging through their Bandcamp page is one I couldn’t pass up.

The simplest way to explain to you what plays in my head when I think of when someone says “metal” just listen to “Derelict” the second track from Death Beyond Darkness, the compilation of demos and live tracks from Sacramento, CA band Dissident Aggressor. Riffs pile atop riffs in a technical thrash onslaught that recalls what so many bands were trying to do (namely, take the best parts of classic Metallica and put their own stamp on it) but so few succeeded. The sound I hear on tracks like opener “The Thrill Can Kill,” “The Hill,” and “Forbidden Territories” is the sound I wanted to hear every time I picked up a cassette by a band with an awesome cover (looking at you, Lååz Rockit and Apocrypha) only to fail to match what I craved at the time.

OK, snare sound aside (remember, a lot of these are demos) this is some gnarly, in your face technical thrash/death. Epitaph hail from Tampa, FL – no surprise considering that sound – and Divebomb’s Echoes Entombed: The Demo Anthology shows how easily a band like Epitaph could have sat besides the likes of an Atheist or Pestilence. The twisted harmonies that come in opener “I Endeavor” or the pummeling that comes early in “Quantum of Solace” are just more proof of how fertile the area was for metal at the time.

German thrashers Pyracanda actually made it to the finish line, crafting a mighty fine debut in 1990’s Two Sides Of A Coin. Taking thrash, technical metal and injecting some European power sensibilities the album really holds up well against the current crop of music, particularly the great vocals of Hansi Nefen. Divebomb gives this gem the deluxe treatment, including a number of demos as well as a sweet booklet. Tracks like “Delirium Tremens (Tremendous)” and “Welcome to Crabhouse City” make for a great listen no matter your state of mind…provided you want to raise some fists and hail the gods of metal.

Another criminal misstep…how did we not get more from Crystal Lake, IL band Suspiria? If your name is derived from a killer Argento film and you freakin’ come from the place that spawned Jason Voorhees, you better believe the metal is going to be frantic and furious. Completely remastered and collecting all of their all-too-brief output, Psychologically Impaled is another revelation of death metal meeting technical thrash and being metal thrashing mad. Come for wicked opener “Desolated By Theory” and stay for everything else (though I’ll admit those live tracks sound, uh…well…just stay: the studio tracks are more than worth the price of admission).

It’s artwork like this that would draw me into a blind buy as a kid every single time. And if at the time I had seen Tomb of Infamy by Stockton, CA’s Terminus I would have definitely picked it up. Unfortunately we live in a world where that could never have happened, since the EP follow up to the band’s 1994 debut Creations. But we have Divebomb to thank for bringing this charging piece metal into the light, complete with the debut album tacked on as a supplement. That’s right: this baby represents the band’s total (and killer) output. If there’s a better opening than “Lycanthrope” please let me know. In the meantime I’ll be banging my head against this righteous piece of metal for months to come.

Chastain might be one of the more well-known names on this list, having put out a number of excellent releases over the course of thirty plus years. Divebomb gives their fifth album, 1990’s For Those Who Dare the epic treatment, presenting a restored version of the original, balanced mix as well as bonus tracks and extensive liner notes on the physical copy. This is a great introduction to the powerful vocals of Leather Leone, not to mention the copious chops of David T. Chastain. Check out “Night of Anger” to get you started if you’re new to what this band brings to the metal table.

You’re probably noticing a bit of a genre theme at this point: Divebomb specializes in hard, fast, furious thrash. Hostile Rage (is there any other kind?) gets the retrospective treatment with On The Rampage, which puts into print for the first time their debut full length along with a collection of their demos, all remastered and sounding like a bullet to the head. Check out the title track, “Hell On Earth” and the deliciously propolsive “Dead Meat” for some killer old school thrash.

How about a little crossover action in your thrash? Tyrranicide bring some skank and crush into their brand of thrash and the deluxe reissue of their lone full length, 1989’s God Save The Scene is a damn delight of wicked riffs and snarled barks. The bass tone alone makes this a must-have, but taken with songs like “Nails on Chalkboard” and the ridiculous “Pull the Plug” everything is just as nasty and fun as you’d expect. Add to the fray compilation tracks, demos, and the scratches of what would have been their sophomore album and the whole package is a winner for those not afraid to pogo in the pit.

Before power metal spread its mighty wings into the skies of soaring melodies and keyboard wizardry, it had its bloodied boots in the dirt of thrash and speed metal. Listening to Oracle reminds me of the genre’s scrappy origins, and Desolate Kings is a great anthology collecting not only their 1992 full length Selah but also their demos and live tracks. “Harlots Destiny” is an early favorite of a record I plan on listening to again and again.

One of the best feelings is finding a label you can trust to mirror your tastes: the more I dive into the archives of what Divebomb has touched over the years the more I come away with new and exciting music to sink into. And that’s not to mention the veritable ton of recent releases they’ve helped push in the physical space, from power metal like Ironflame and Final Sign to Dire Peril and my own beloved Judicator.

Until next time, keep it heavy.

– Chris

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