Earache Records, the stalwart indie label of British metal, is 25 years old. That’s older than a good proportion of our readership. Over two and a half decades, Earache has put out hundreds of records, including more than a few bona fide classics in almost every major subgenre of metal. We can’t let such a momentous anniversary go unremarked upon, so for the rest of this week, we’re going to be looking back over the entire Earache back catalogue and revisit some of our favourite – and the label’s most controversial – releases from the last quarter-century.
We’ve got some rules though – we’re only looking at one album per year of the label’s existence. We’re only looking at one album per band, in order to maximise our spread. Some of the albums we’ve picked for their historical significance, some we’ve picked because the folks over at Earache (and sometimes, guys in bands) have interesting stories about the albums that they’re willing to share with us, and some we’ve picked simply because we’ve got a bit of a soft spot for ’em. And lastly, in order to keep things manageable, we’re splitting up our analysis into 5 bite-sized chunks, each covering a five-year period in the label’s history.
1987: The Accüsed – Return of Martha Splatterhead
Now while the obvious choice of a record released in Earache’s first year of business is Napalm Death’s Scum, we’ve chosen to go with The Accused’s The Return of Martha Splatterhead instead. Firstly, because if you’re not already familiar with Scum then there’s a good chance you’ve just stumbled across our website by accident, and it’d be a waste of time for us to add yet more missives to the importance of that album. And secondly, this was the first true Earache release, holding as it does the distinguished catalogue number of MOSH01. For that reason (well, that and the fact that it’s massive overshadowed by the let’s-be-honest-far-superior output from some of the other bands in Earache’s early years), our first pick in our retrospective goes out to this slice of dirty squalid punk.
1988: Napalm Death – From Enslavement To Obliteration
Since we skipped Napalm Death for our 1987 listing, there’s no chance we could overlook them for 1988. From Enslavement To Obliteration is widely and rightly regarded as one of grindcore’s most important records. As Lee Dorian’s final studio record with the band, it also heralded the arrival of one Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway, who’s recruitment into the band would prove to be a career-defining moment for the Birmingham-based band.
Regardless of the long-lasting fued that would later emerge between Napalm Deatj and Earache (see Napalm’s current vocalist Barney Greenway’s recent response to Earache boss Digby Pearson’s blog about how Greenway’s “enmity to Earache is legendary” to see how this is still in place today), it also marks the point where Napalm Death solidified the blueprint for the next twenty years of international grindcore, and remains one of Earache’s most important releases.
1989: Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness
The late 80s were when many of death metal’s heaviest hitters were putting out their first – and some would argue finest – records, and there are perhaps none in the Earache Records back catalogue who meet that description as well as Morbid Angel do. Sure, sure – these days we’re as likely to be making for of the awful, awful sub-Rob Zombie stomp of Trey Azagthoth and co. than singing the praises of this – their peerless, essential debut, but it’s the undeniable power and influence of this record on death metal as a whole that made us and the metal world in general come down so hard on Illud Divinum Insanus. The metal world knows what Morbid Angel are capable of, and their inability to reach the standard they set with Altars Of Madness means their continued failure to create anything nearly as special hurts all the more harder.
1990: Entombed – Left Hand Path
And speaking of debuts, where would we be without Entombed’s magnificent first LP, Left Hand Path? Well, everyone from Doomriders to Black Breath to Cursed to All Pigs Must Die to 90% of the Swedish Death Metal you’ve ever heard would be desperately in search of a new guitar tone to emulate. Left Hand Path is widely regarded as the album that first managed to define that “buzzsaw” style of guitar-playing that gave death metal the raucous chaotic edge it had been sorely calling out for. Of all of Earache’s early death metal success stories, Left Hand Path has been the one that we’ve returned to again and again – whenever we’re feeling bummed out on the state of music, we slap this record on to remind ourselves why we got into this game in the first place.
1991: Carcass – Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious
While the case could be made for including many of Carcass’ other records on this list (and really, would anyone have raised an eyebrow is we’d plumped for Reek of Putrefecation or Heartwork?), but we’ve gone for Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious as it was the first Carcass record to feature one Michael Amott on guitars. While Amott had previously released material as a member of Disaccord and Carnage, it was his work with Carcass that truly introduced the Swedish guitarist to the wider metal audience. Although his songwriting contributions were not as extensive as they would be on Heartwork, it was Necroticism that kickstarted the career of the future founder of Arch Enemy, as well as being an important turning point for Carcass as they began to traverse away from their grind-ier beginnings to a more overtly death metal kind of sound.
Well, that the first five years of Earache Records’ year-by-year discography retrospective covered. Wow, we’ve just realised that this whole concept is a lot easier to understand in theory than it is to express succinctly in an article sign-off. Ho hum. Come back tomorrow when we’ll have part 2 of our retrospective – covering 1992 to 1996.