Various Artists - Better Undead Than Alive 2
Code666 Records
Black/Progressive Metal
19 songs (01:20:00)
Release year: 2010
Code666 Records
Reviewed by Charles
This is either one of the most intriguing ideas for a record I’ve come across in a while, or else it’s a cunning way of making something far more pedestrian appear exciting to jaded music listeners. Given that the record label behind it is code666, home of true groundbreakers like Ephel Duath, Negura Bunget, Fen, and even foulmouthed weirdos Axis of Perdition, let’s give Better Undead than Alive 2 the benefit of the doubt and assume the former.

Essentially, this is a label compilation- but a couple of things about it make it worth reviewing here. Firstly, all the tracks are created exclusively for this album- as they were for Better Dead than Alive 1, which I must confess to never having heard of until receiving this. Secondly, and what apparently differentiates this from its predecessor, and indeed any metal compilation I’ve previously come across, is that the tunes here are supposedly designed with a single, collaborative concept album in mind. So, it’s almost supposed to be a single work, with different contributors, like different actors in a film. Of course, you could say that about any compilation- doesn’t make it work like that. So to make it actually function, almost every other track here is an especially-composed vignette by Ephel Duath leader Davide Tiso, acting like the sinews that bind this together into a continuous organism.

So, what actually lurks herein, musically? Well, a scan of the track listing certainly pricks the interest- my own eyes were drawn immediately to the prospect of new material by Negura Bunget, Axis of Perdition and Fen. But first things first- Tiso’s interludes (the titles of which spell out a self-congratulatory message to the label) are really worth hearing- short as they are- for anyone who’s been following Ephel Duath’s unpredictable and invigorating path with interest. They sound like experimental snippets from his drawing board, often revolving around the murky electronica that characterised RePhormula, but daubed with curiously pulsating drum beats and reverberating clean guitar lines, which frequently give it the feel of a hellishly twisted chillout album. It should be the lift music in the Japanese film, Hellevator.

Which is good, because aside from these, what is on display here from the feature contributors is intense stuff. In particular, this is a real feast of plenty for those whose boat is floated by electronic and industrial leanings within black metal. Obviously, you have Axis…, here on real raging black metal form after Urfe’s comically frustrating cartwheel into sonic bemusment. Similarly electronic is the filthily industrial stomp of Minethorn, the pneumatic-drill tremolo of Diabolicum, and the twisted, synthy Damned Spirits Dance, who create a real highlight by fusing the shouty, oratorical approach of Mayhem’s Grand Declaration to bludgeoning cyber-black metal like, say, Aborym. There are also truly weird (possibly ill-advised?) fusion offerings in a similar vein, like the screamy dancefloor techno of Herrschaft, which makes me think of corpsepainted ghouls waving glowsticks and doing ecstasy.

Of course, whether this all flows together into something really unified is completely subjective. Presumably if it were on random shuffle a musical ear determined to interpret a purpose and coherence to the track listing could do so. Having said that, it does seem to take a change of direction in the closing three songs. Excluding Tiso’s contributions, synths and computers are put down, and replaced by what I’m tempted to call “proper metal instruments”. The Prophecy put in a really engaging, multifaceted prog-metal workout, switching radically from idea to idea like a more extreme metal-friendly Between the Buried and Me. Penultimate is perhaps the biggest underground heroes here, Negura Bunget, and they are considerably more death metal than you may expect following Om, although Cumpana does give you a taste of what to expect from Negru and co.’s rapidly approaching, particularly tasty follow-up. Unsurprisingly, their contribution is an absolute highlight here.

And then, when you get to Fen’s closing 15-minute epic, that the other contributors have ducked out the way to give them time and space to become the stars of the show. In their familiarly rustic, plodding style, they build an epic that is utterly conspicuous within the context of this album, but could have fit perfectly into their debut album from last year. I do think this band can improve- this isn’t the most interesting track here by a long shot- but as a closer it provides a surprisingly pensive twist ending.

Thus, whether you buy the concept behind this is irrelevant (lyrically, I have no idea if there is supposed to be a narrative thread running through this or not- there’s no lyric sheet with the promo bobs). Ultimately it is a collection of new material by an impressive roster of highly creative metal musicians, and for that alone surely it deserves a listen.

Killing Songs :
Contributions by Negura Bunget and The Prophecy
Charles quoted no quote
Other albums by Various Artists that we have reviewed:
Various Artists - Brutal Africa: The Heavy Metal Cowboys of Botswana reviewed by Andy and quoted no quote
Various Artists - Servants of Chaos II reviewed by Andy and quoted no quote
Various Artists - In Mordor Where the Shadows Are - Homage to Summoning reviewed by Andy and quoted no quote
Various Artists - A Light in the Black : A Tribute to Ronnie James Dio reviewed by Alex and quoted no quote
Various Artists - Re-Machined: A Tribute to Deep Purple's Machine Head reviewed by Stefan and quoted No Quote
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