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Geasa | ‘Starside’

Time and place can play such an important role when it comes to music.

For me Geasa’s ‘Starside’ demo is one such release, bound for ever in my mind to a time as an eager and excitable fourteen year old, I felt I was dashing bravely into the unknown.

Every time I listen to it- usually around this time of year when the cold weather and diminished daylight really start to make themselves felt- it transports me back to the day I picked it up in that famous Dublin institution, Sound Cellar.

It was my first demo purchase, no doubt bought on a whim with the few pound I had left over from buying the latest Sepul-tones-tera-head CD. Ironically, it is the one that has gone the distance, even if the band themselves never did.

Singularly Frosty

As a first tentative step into the local metal scene it was a step in the right direction and one that unwittingly led me down the path of more obscure and underground music that I still travel today. Not bad for a fiver!

It was only on this release that I felt that the band really captured a cohesive and uncompromised vision as each subsequent release seemed to stumble aimlessly around trying to capture something, anything, occasionally hitting the mark as on much of ‘Fate’s Lost Son’, but more often falling flat.

Still, the various subsequent missteps can’t take away from the singular frosty atmosphere they created on this great demo. The lyrics conjure romantic and cold visions of undead airborne beings soaring across vast frozen landscapes.

Imagine if the Christmas film The Snowman was a lot more morbid. That’s the sort of image I see when listening to ‘Starside’, as inappropriate as it surely sounds.

The production is perfect, which is not something that can be said of a lot of local demos from around the nineties when bands were more often charged through the nose only to end up with a clunky, shoddily mixed mess by a disinterested chancer- anyone who recorded anything in the nineties won’t need to be told, but ‘Starside’ is a revelation.

The playing is assured and confident, the production is raw in the way that so many lesser bands aim for and fumble, the lyrics all work to enhance the atmosphere, the fantastic astral keyboards haven’t aged a day and add a transportative value to the journey.

The drums are warm and full, the guitars are ice cold and clear and the blasted vocals sit nicely to the fore. It’s just so accomplished on all fronts.

Primordial Images

The somewhat clumsy artwork even goes some way in capturing the essence of the music with its predominantly white depiction of a moon-lit lake. Maybe it’s simply because it has become so ingrained as part of the whole experience for me over the years, but I think it works well.

The music is essentially old school Norse black metal with a few un-intrusive Celticisms. The bodhrán intro, for example, could very easily have been a bit O’Carrolls; rather it somehow evokes an image of a large crackling bonfire in my mind’s eye. Dare I mention the word ritual? I suppose I just did.

The effect was evocative of some sort of pagan seance. Without any real understanding of these things I was happy to simply allow those vague, primordial images to float across my mind’s eye, heightening the whole experience.

In some ways it was the planting of the seed that eventually blossomed into an appreciation for more abstract ideas like music having ‘atmosphere’ beyond the limits of simply being melody, or pounding heaviness. The notion of music as invocation or evocation continues to be an important factor in my listening to this day.

At the time my knowledge and understanding of black metal was limited to a small handful of bands and the association I always made at the time was with Emperor. In some respects it seems way off the mark to me now but I can kind of see where I was going with it. In terms of the overall cold and wintry atmosphere that paralleled ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’ there is some sense to be derived; there’s an atmosphere of chilly decay that both recordings share.

The songs are at once sweeping, epic and evil, pretty much hitting the necro nail squarely on the head. Each riff has purpose and each song lodges in the brain, but it’s arguably the second side of the demo that bears the classics. ‘Warrior’, ‘Starside’ and ‘Rite of Passage’ are simply fantastic and highly memorable pieces of music, heaped with a fantastic and eerie mood and decked in strong imagery.

‘Striding toward a bloody cross’… ‘Fucking the lifeless daughter of light’. You get the picture.

What serendipity brought these characters together at this time to write and record such magic music we can never know, but it sadly wasn’t to last.

Member re-shuffles neutered the band before they really got going, with their debut album coming out on the renowned Season of Mist three years later before sinking like the creative stone that it certainly was.

What a shame. Still, if the band had only released this brief demo before disappearing into the night, their position within the small but respectable pantheon of legendary Irish metal bands would have still been secured.

While the likes of Primordial and Mourning Beloveth may have gone on to greater things both creatively and in terms of their exposure, Geasa, as ill-fated as they turned out to be, still manage to evoke a sense of mystery that can only be associated with the pre-internet world. ‘Starside’ stands as an equal, possibly as more than that, with the demo work of those bands.

What’s more if we work our way backward from the likes of Slidhr, Rebirth of Nefast or Altar of Plagues the journey will surely lead to this proud work.

A fluke, perhaps, but what a fluke. This timeless recording deserves to be heard by many more people than are ever likely to hear it. Who knows, maybe it will get a fancy re-release at some point and finally find some status beyond the borders of this Island. Maybe it will remain an overlooked gem.

If you have it already you’ll know its significance. If you haven’t heard it before I can’t recommend it enough.

A timeless classic.

Andrew Cunningham ::: 05/12/16

  1. Great release. I remember seeing these lads in Slatterys around the time of Angels Cry.

    You’re spot on, and as cliched as it may sound they never recaptured the vibe of the demo. That also rang true for live performances as they played here and there but it was never the same or maybe as you say is it the fact that we were young and impressionable and Geasa were there at the right time?

  2. Eoin McLove Says:

    I only saw them live for the first time in 2000 so I can’t comment on the original lineup in the live setting but I think the music itself still holds up incredibly well.

  3. A great release, might have caught them in 2006 or so, but not too sure. They definitely had a unique sound.

  4. I went with John to collect the tapes the day they were ready and so managed to get one of the first tapes off the press. Funny Andy mentions winter cos the tape came out in the summer of 96 and the show I organised in Cork (with Thus Defiled) was one of the only Geasa shows with Fergal on guitar when they were out and out black metal (including corpse paint). Some great fucking memories of 20 years ago resurrected now by this piece. Hard to grasp that it was 20 years ago as well. Demo has still hold up and is definitely worth the attention Andy’s trying to drum up for it here. Fantastic atmosphere on it.

  5. Buttlord 666 Says:

    I picked it up around Christmas time so it will always have that deep winter (and children’s cartoon!) association for me. I’d love to have been more clued in to the local scene back then but I was so young and listening to all sorts of stuff, not to mention how hit and miss the quality of local bands was back then (mostly miss). Still, there is no doubt that I missed out on some great stuff too. I recently managed to get an original copy of the Primordial demo tape which is a really nice item to have and I’m sure I’d have been totally enamored of it if I’d picked it up back then.

  6. Eoin McLove Says:

    Good point, Buttlord. I agree entirely.

  7. The local scene back then, as in Dublin scene, consisted almost entirely of Primordial, Arcane Sun (or were they still called The Fifth Dominion, I forget), Abaddon Incarnate and Geasa. Cruachan had packed it in or were playing Blur and No Doubt covers on the backs of trucks so I think there were one or two other bands getting together but I don’t recall many (any?) others then.

  8. Black Shepherd Says:

    Nice piece Andy, and a great release I haven’t listened to in quite a while. Still have that shirt Steve’s sporting in the photo though, bought off Boob if memory serves!

  9. Class release. Was the first real black metal I had heard as a young lad, and had a lasting impact on me for sure. Couldn’t get over how otherworldly it sounded, especially the beginning of ‘Empyrean’. Had no idea that such a thing as Irish black metal even existed prior to hearing the demo.

  10. Cool write-up. You’ve inspired me to listen to it for the first time in god knows how long and I’m really enjoying it.

  11. Eoin McLove Says:

    Job done! If ever a local demo deserved a vinyl release, eh!

  12. Eoin McLove Says:

    While people are reading this and maybe getting a little nostalgic, I’d love to see some of the older heads who were buying demos through the 80s and 90s offer up some articles on other local gems. Asphyxia/Morphosis, Primordial, Graveyard Dirt, Scald, Mourning Beloveth etc.

  13. pentagrimes Says:

    Oooh I might be up for that. (cough ..Misanthropy..cough)

  14. Paul Keohane Says:

    Definitely a big nostalgic buzz for me reading that,I gave away the demo to someone a few years back,(i haven’t had a cassette player in over 10 years at least).I think theres footage of their set from Fermoy on YouTube.

  15. Class demo. Oddly enough, I got what I think was the last available copy of it in 1998 in the post from Brian. It blew me away when I first heard it, same goes for when I first saw the band play (Easter 1998 in the TBMC).

    It’s a great idea for a series of reviews.

  16. Here’s the Youtube footage mentioned by Mr Keohane:

  17. Martin Wyer Says:

    Any chance of a reprint?????

  18. cool footage there Pio

  19. It wasn’t the last copy, I actually still have a few ;). I don’t think it will ever get another release as I think John said the only DAT tape went missing and they had use one of the tapes when making the cd. It was disappointing for me that the four of us never followed through on the promise of the demo but once Fergal left it was never really the same.

  20. pentagrimes Says: still have a few?Giss

  21. Damn, there was me thinking I was special…
    Still plenty of copies of the CD left, I might have some in my father’s attic, and there should be quite a few in Cork.

  22. Martin Wyer Says:

    If there’s another tape going after Mr Grimes I’d be interested.

  23. Paul Keohane Says:

    Looking at that footage again brings back some memories,I get a good laugh out of some of the lads in the crowd I’m still good friends with.Some are still very much into metal,and some haven’t listened to metal since back then I’d say!.

  24. Eoin McLove Says:

    Great to see people getting a kick out of this. Hopefully a few older farts will write up a piece or two on other local gems.

  25. I’m sure they played in Fredz one Saturday night with Abbadon Incarnate. I’m abut hazy on the details but I think they brought a second P.A. with them. It was crazy loud. I don’t remember corpse paint. I do remember Abbadon Incarnate being insanely heavy. Not that Geasa weren’t heavy but sweet Jesus that night Steve Maher was roaring for Ireland.
    I’d love to get copy of that demo.

  26. It was great to see these songs being played at the school battle of the bands comp in full corpse paint, spikes n’ bullet belts.. Never saw a crowd wanting to clear a hall so quick..

  27. I came across this article by chance and I read it with immense pride. I wrote this demo together with John.
    We were a band with different ideas. I was interested in making raging, angry black metal while John was interested in epic music with more astral themes. I think it was a good combination.
    The coldness and anger that comes from Empyrean and Warrior definietly came from inside me – the same stuff that burns in a lot of us before we find out what the fuck life is about – I expressed this through these songs with the help of Brian’s anger-ridden vocals.
    I get chills every time I listen to all of these songs.

    The demo was recorded in a small studio off O’Connell street. The engineer was an old dude who had some experience with punk and maybe some rock – knew little about death or black metal and I think that suited us. The guitars were simply double tracked with two different sounds through an effects rack.
    One guitar sound is a crackling, more black metal sound and the second guitar track is pretty much 80’s stadium rock – it sounded fucking awesome together with the first guitar sound.
    The intro to Empyrean is a crash symbol played backwards.
    The Bodhrán intro was John and Simon as far as I remember.
    The acoustic guitar piece between the first two songs was by me and pretty much slated by the others I think… anyway it stayed in.

    Emperor is mentioned in the article but looking back they weren’t really an influence. I also get that cold feeling from the Emperor split ep, but for me death metal peaked with Soulside Journey and black metal peaked with A blaze.. I listened to some other stuff like The Astral sleep and Hammerheart/Under the sign… but not really too much else … those are where my influence came from, John had many others of course.

    To John and Brian –
    I feel bad for the way I left the band, not getting the chance to show the new guitarist how to play Empyrean and Warrior.
    I still know how to play them if anyone wants the chords or a video.
    I feel like you Brian were the flame to the bonfire we built – never got to say it to you back then alas!
    If we had stayed together we would have been far better than loads of the shite that came after.

    Ironically I ended up moving to Norway after that where I now live and work.


  28. Eoin McLove Says:

    Wow, thanks for the info man. Are you still writing music?

  29. Ferg thanks so much for that note, so cool. Really nice to see.

  30. Kieronunsilence Says:

    You could actually get a good remaster from a cassette with the technology available these days. It happened with my old band (Burial) when we recently had a retrospective.

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