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From The Vaults #1 | Decomposed

It’s hard to believe given the current onslaught of death metal reissues that Decomposed’s “Hope Finally Died” remains seemingly destined to lay buried forevermore a full two decades since its release.

Because truly, if there was ever a lost classic screaming to be brought back to public attention for a new generation, the London four piece’s debut and sadly only full length LP is it.

Copies pop up for crazy money on various second hand sites from time to time (indeed, replacing my own copy a couple of years ago was a costly affair) which is no surprise given the seemingly skyrocketing prices for metal records from back in the day.

In real terms though, “Hope Finally Died” is somewhat priceless.

First, some background – a band who released two demos, a 7” and an excellent two song 12” single (“The Funeral Obsession”), Decomposed seemed like a band who were always close to attaining the kind of status the quality of their music deserved, but never quite did – a sort of always the bridesmaid, never the My Dying Bride if you will.

Joking aside their gloomy, atmospheric brand of death metal should have earned them as big an audience as that legendary Yorkshire band; a less pretentious and undoubtedly more brutal cousin to their Peaceville peers in Anathema and MDB, they’d have sat perfectly on that label perhaps.

Indeed, it’s worth noting Decomposed opened the gig MTV filmed for their “Peaceville Special” on Headbanger’s Ball back in the day .. though whether any footage of their performance exists I’m unsure.

Their live shows were solid and regular, opening for bigger bands of the day in the UK, but also venturing over the Irish Sea for a few shows here around the time of this album’s release with Scottish nutters Korpse.

I have vivid memories – and possibly a scratchy soundboard recording on tape somewhere – of their Cork show in Nancy Spain’s with Fifth Dominion. Sadly within a year of those shows the band was laid to rest, with “Hope Finally Died” being their epitaph.

Nominally a doom/death album but with the “doom” part to the forefront, “Hope Finally Died” centres an expertise in creating an utterly morose sound.

I’ve yet to whip out the calculator or anything, but even for a death metal band, I reckon the amount of instances of the words “die”, “dying” and “funeral” on this album is well above the average for an album with a mere seven songs.

Decomposed really did capture a genuinely deathly atmosphere here – the whole album reeks of the coffin, evokes images of funeral procession, and deserted, dilapidated graveyards.

It’s literally obsessed with death, both the burial/funerary process and the need to try and capture the moments of passing into the great beyond in song form. Most lyrics are from the point of view of a dying or recently deceased person, struggling to come to terms with what is happening (or perhaps already has happened) to them.

We’re not talking flowery poetry or metaphors either, just the cold reality of the grave. Take this cheerful verse from opener “Inscriptions”:

As you walk upon my unmarked grave
I will lie gazing up at you
My empty eyes see nothing
But remember the pain

“Inscriptions” is the song that encapsulates the album – if not the band overall – perfectly.

It’s also possibly the most miserable opening track on a death metal album ever. Opening at a snail’s pace, with an overbearingly miserable riff , it gradually builds from slow and dark slabs of guitar, gradually gathering in intensity and pace.

Before you know it there’s a flurry of blastbeats, an outburst of rage against the dying of the light; but then as if accepting the inevitable fate ahead, the music returns to a dirge.

The closing section of the song though are breath taking – guitarists James Ogawa and Pete Snasdell build their closing guitar lines and from an initial Autopsy style creepiness into a despair filled harmony, as bassist/vocalist Harry Armstrong delivers the above lines in his harsh, gravelly bellow.

It’s utterly bleak, capturing an emotion that many of their peers never could.

It’s an early peak, for sure. But the rest of the album is certainly far from downhill. That bleakness is their calling card, as is the mostly slow to mid paced range they cover rather than pursuing speed over substance.

But “Taste The Dying” reminds they could do straight up head ripping brutality at higher speeds when the urge took them.

It’s classic, ripping death metal from the outset, punctuated by a pause for Harry to yell “look at me and see that I am dying” and the band to shift into the gloom once again.

This resolves itself in a return to the rapid fire assault that carries us to the end of the track.

“At Rest” , initially recorded and released on “The Funeral Obsession” EP appears in re-recorded form here. It’s a fucking classic.

That’s pretty much all I have to say about that, a fine example of how to write a death metal song. Similarly, “Procession of the Undertakers” from the “Ego Sum Lex Mundi” demo gets a look in here, resurrected from the demo and encased in a shiny new sonic casket.

It’s another example of their signature approach of build and release, as well as possibly their most despondent moment.

After the intro, we’re thrust into the kind of slow motion funeral march the song’s title would have you imagine, as the foursome crawl through the verses.

But as with much of their work, the mood changes to aggression abruptly for a spell, as the adrenaline picks up slightly for some neck snapping double bass action in the middle. Things are brought towards their end with another fine example of mournful guitar harmony moment from Ogawa and Snasdell.

A quick word, while we’re talking guitars, on the guitar solos. Yeah, I , know, we all consider solos a little bit naff nowadays but some of the playing here reminds you that when done right, they can really make a song a little more special.

All bar one performed by Ogawa, his melodic approach to soloing (not 100 miles away from James Murphy in places) enhances the songs beautifully, and they really become part of the songs rather than an excuse for some hot shot axemonger to show off his skills.

Snasdell feels a little underused in that department to be honest, his one chance to shine is a brief solo in “At Rest” that again works nicely.

It’s easy in some regards to see perhaps why Decomposed both didn’t set the world alight, and broke up shortly after this album was released; sadly, their moment feels like it arrived too late for one thing, and as respectable a label as Candlelight are, they were very much associated with the growing Black metal wave that was engulfing the underground at the time.

Decomposed were one of many more deserving underground Death Metal acts who were lost when the gates of Helvete opened and the Norske Armada started hogging all the attention. Had the album come out even a year earlier it may have had more of an impact.

But it’s also clear on the album that the band were starting to move in a different direction.

On the tracks “Falling Apart” and “Instrument (Lying in State)” (strange title given it features spoken word vocals towards the end) they adopt a slightly more progressive approach – twisting and turning through slightly more complex song structures and off kilter rythyms courtesy of some deft playing from drummer Tim Spear.

On these two tracks they come across as perhaps not 100 miles away from what Confessor might have sounded like with death metal vocals.

At first those songs sit a wee fraction at odds with the rest of the album in their slightly more adventurous nature, but given the band’s break up it becomes apparent they were perhaps a taste of things to come.

The four members resurfaced under the name Collapse in 1995, releasing a demo entitled “From Another Place” – I’ve never been able to locate a copy, but Metal Archives categorises it as “progressive metal” (it’s also interesting to note that it features a song entitled “Corners”, which was the name of a then new song Decomposed played at those Irish dates, and which was more in the complex vein of “Falling Apart”).

In turn, after the dissolution of that band, members went on to the likes of Hangnail, Firebird, and End Of Level Boss.

There are flaws of course – it’s not the perfect album I’d like them to have made maybe. The production though crystal clear and heavy enough in the guitar department, seems a little sterile (the drums in particular) and robs them of a dirt that I feel they needed.

And arguably the inclusion of two re-recorded older songs and an instrumental outro (“Forever Lying In State” which to be honest is unnecessary) might leave some feeling short changed, as while both oldies sound fine here neither quite match their original incarnations. But as a final document, in retrospect it all fits together fine.

It’s a personal opinion of course and I’d be foolish to believe otherwise – but I genuinely feel time has been more than kind to “Hope Finally Died”.

Minor reservations aside, it’s a snapshot of a band who had refined and developed a character all of their own at a time when perhaps Death Metal as a genre was becoming a mire of generic bands trying to out-pummel each other in a quest for some imagined title as most brutal/frightening/offensive band on earth.

This is the work of four people who had considered and laboured over their music, and reflects an understanding of aesthetic that some of their peers at the time lacked.

With their self-restraint and care within the song structures, with their uncanny knack for wrangling a hook or guitar phrase that sent shivers down the spine, and with their single-minded dedication to creating Death Metal that really emphasised how the form could engage with a sense of grief and mourning without sacrificing the power and ferocity that birthed it, Decomposed fashioned a flawed masterpiece that still holds up excellently today.

An album that deals with loss of life, that marked the loss of a vibrant musical entity, it’s one to revisit if you haven’t played in a while, and investigate if you’ve never heard it.

I truly hope someone manages to overcome whatever rights or licensing issue that’s keep this buried, and gives it the reissue it sorely deserves.

– Jamie Grimes ::: 28/03/14

  1. Always start with a joke. haha. Got a dry laugh out of that one, Jamie.

    Pretty sure Fart has fired these up on FB a few times over the years but for whatever reason I never followed up on them. Sneaky download now being procured.

  2. Eoin McLove Says:

    Same. They are a name I see bandied about with some regularity but I’ve never checked them out. Will give them a listen later. The review sounds promising.

  3. totally random thing here but if any older heads read this and have that Collapse demo I mention, I’d love to hear it..drop me a line.

  4. caomhaoin Says:

    I will have a blast of this later.

    The standard of reviews and interviews on the site is really stellar at the moment. Fair play Jamie.

  5. thanks!This was definitely a labour of love.

    here, I glaze over them in this piece a little, but the “Ego Sum Lexi Mundi” demo and “Funeral Obsession” 12″ are just as essential – the demo is absolutely fucking filthy sounding. The first demo ,”Sermons of Morbidity”, is cool in a by the numbers kinda way but “Ego” is killer.

  6. Black Shepherd Says:

    I heard this once in somebody’s house a very long time ago but never had a copy myself. Excellent read and that track really makes me wish I’d gotten a copy of this off that somebody – really unique and, as you said, bleak sound for that kind of DM.

  7. I’m a big fan of Hangnail and always loved my doom/death. Never thought to look into their past and surprised I missed this first time round. Nice one thanks!

  8. Reading that has made my pine for my ‘Hope Finally Died’ LP back home at my parents’ place in Dublin.

    Their Irish ‘tour’ ’94 was a great laugh, probably the first time anything like that had been done here and I suppose was pretty much the spark of the idea that eventually became Emerald.

  9. … and was 20 years ago this July. Jaysis.

  10. StandupPaul Says:

    I had the Ego Sum Lexi Mundi demo from my tape trading days, but (stupidly) gave it away along with hundreds of other cassettes.

    Would love to see the album get a reissue.


  11. Cool review, these features are definitely a great idea. I actually managed to get a CD of it for 3euro on here about 5 years ago. The band hinted about potential reissues on Facebook a while back. If I’m not mistaken, one of the lads from Decomposed plays in another band currently signed to Candlelight so we may see it yet. A vinyl reissue would be savage.

  12. Picked up a copy of this on tape a few years ago in the Soundcellar, got it when it came out then lost it years after. If I recall there was a copy on tape there a few weeks back. There was some great music coming out of the UK back then.

  13. Fuck me. I had a cursory look on discogs for the craic. 300 – 500 euro for a second hand cd copy.

    Naturally, I bought two.

    Anyone interested? Yours for a grand. Postage not included.

    That track is cool. Any similar bands, Jamie?

  14. steve maher Says:

    wow, i remember being at that gig in Dublin, it cannot be 20 years ago now, 16 years old haha. Was that one of the Sunday all ages gigs in the Rock garden?

  15. It was definitely in the Rock Garden. Given that they played Cork a day or two later, I’m not sure if it was on a Sunday. But then, it was during the summer holidays, back when I was too young to work and so every day was a Saturday, so the Cork gig might have been any day of the week and I wouldn’t have noticed.

  16. Now this is what Im talkin about, from the fuckin vaults man!!!Tis where I spend most of musical life!!!…A great review, well done mate, they’re a band Ive heard whispers about over the years but dont think I actuallly had any of their stuff. Looking forward to many more ‘from the vaults’ features!!, where the fuck am I gonna get a copy off this old gem, nowhere it seems!!:(…

  17. Great band and the review.
    Breathtaking doomy tunes.
    Totally dead and morose.

  18. King Hostile Says:

    Brilliant….. class music….

  19. “Look at me and see that I am dying.”
    One of the coolest sections in all of metal.
    I have a copy of this lying around Donegal with the £3 price tag on it. Must root it out for a spin one of these days. Excellent album.

  20. Also, a fine read. Nice job, Mr. Grimes.

  21. pentecost7 Says:

    I had a first press copy of this. I bought it back in 94/95 id say. At the time I was obsessed with anathema and MDB, and purchased the album on the strength of the artwork and the song titles. For some reason it just didn’t happen for me. Maybe it was because the likes of Serenades and crestfallen were so brilliant, nothing else got a deserved chance around then. I do remember two lyrics that stick in my head though: “I collapse”….might be the first song. It sounded so desolate and dark, must somehow try give it a go again sumtime. I did trade it here on MI for first press “Omnio” I think!. Happy enough with that!

  22. It was The Rock Garden on Thursday July 14th and Nancy Spains July 16th 1994.
    I had the four of them in the gaff from the Tuesday until the Monday. Madness….

  23. I went to a Life Of Agony gig in The Garage in London in Oct 1995 with Russ Smith and he told me that Candlelight were thinking of flogging the remaining vinyl off to some South American lot for 50p a copy…ha…..

  24. nice, look forward to more of these

  25. See this has been rereleased on cd. Just got it on amazon.

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