The notion that heavy metal is a corrupting influence, in league with demonic forces, has become quaint.
Old reels of late-’80s “Satanic Panic” news specials and the anti-obscenity crusade helmed by Tipper Gore and the Parents’ Music Resource Center survive on YouTube as nostalgic punchlines.
But for South Carolina’s blackened thrash metal quintet Demiser, it’s no joke.
“We are a demon worship band,” said the band’s frontman, known publicly as Demiser the Demiser. “If you read through the lyrics and everything, you’ll see it in there. There’s conjuration. There’s evocation. We call out demons by name. It’s a part of heavy metal that has always been there. We’re just trying to take it to the next level.”
With their full-length debut, “Through the Gate Eternal,” Demiser have, in their own words, set out to be “the filthiest, [most] evil, satanic speed metal band in the United States.”
Musically, at least, they might well have succeeded. Echoes of extreme-metal forbears from Venom and Bathory to Slayer and Motörhead provide a sturdy foundation for Demiser’s swift and brutal attacks. But, most insidiously, they never sacrifice compelling riffs and hooks in the name of brutality or technical prowess.
In the book, “Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal,” by Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman, Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister described his band as “primitive brutality,” and underscored its roots in rock ‘n’ roll. “People always like to rock ‘n’ roll,” the icon said. “You can bop to it if you’re very quick.”
Demiser echoes that approach in their own music. Demiser the Demiser puts it plainly:
“Obviously we play fast, memorable riffs, and it is no easy feat, but maintaining that more rock ‘n’ roll construct. You get too technical and you lose that. We want it to be catchy, but we want to maintain that raw, filthy, fast, evil, satanic s#!t.”
Indeed, very quick bops abound on “Through the Gate Eternal.” The anthemic “Demiser the Demiser” — a holdover from 2018’s “Surrender to Sin” demo — peaks with a call-and-response chorus buoyed by dive-bombing guitar fills and a driving low end pushed by a relentless double bass drum attack. “Unholy Sacrifices” indulges in melodic guitar leads that evoke the atmospheric blend of black metal, thrash and post-rock that has earned accolades for the likes of Behemoth and Skeletonwitch.
But don’t be fooled by the fist-pumping, mosh-starting earworms packed into the 34-minute LP. As drummer Infestor puts it, “A lot of bands look scary, but it’s a lot different when you’ve got a band that lives that s#!t.”
There’s no burying the lede here, either. Opening the album with its title track, Demiser sprints through sharp, precise riffs while its frontman bellows an ominous curse twisted into a shout-along hook: “Satan takes your soul / Pray to your false gods you’ll never know.” Even at
their most apparently serene, the delicate acoustic interlude “Song of Byleth,” Demiser pays tribute to a king of Hell and commander of 85 legions of demons.
Across its nine tracks, “Through the Gate Eternal” sprints and darts through a catalog of heavy metal techniques, from death metal blast beats to black metal’s shrill tremolo-picked riffs and a relative comfort zone of vicious thrash. It’s a remarkably efficient LP, powerful in its concision and its precision.
With its five pseudonymous members — singer Demiser the Demiser, drummer Infestor, bassist Defiler and guitarists Gravepisser and Phallomancer — spread throughout South Carolina, from the Upstate to Charleston, time for the full band to rehearse together is scarce, so no idea comes to the group unless it’s a good one.
“We only write keepers,” Infestor said.
With the restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic added to the band’s existing logistical hurdles, recording for “Through the Gate Eternal" was done over the course of six weekends, in separate sessions at Seaboard Recording Studio in Columbia, with guitarist Gravepisser overseeing each of them. Damian Herring of the death metal band Horrendous mastered the album.
But, as Infestor notes, “Even without the impact of COVID, it probably still would have taken a good while because we were pretty much limited to the weekends.”
Ultimately, that patient approach to recording paid off. While the album is crisply produced, with every frantic note ringing clearly, it suffers no lack of urgency or intensity. Where many lesser bands hide behind lo-fi murk to create a sense of mystery, Demiser lays its cards on the table. And it’s a powerful gambit for the ascendant band.
With “Through the Gate Eternal,” Demiser effectively makes heavy metal feel exciting — and maybe even dangerous — again. Just don’t tell Tipper.
Demiser's "Through the Gate Eternal"
Available March 12 via Boris Records. demiser.bandcamp.com.