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