REVIEW: DECAPITATED – “The First Damned”
‘The First Damned’ is an almost ironically named compilation by Polish technical death groove metal stalwarts Decapitated. This compilation is ironically named as it is not the first version of The First Damned, first released in 2000 under the same name. The First Damned is a collection of Decapitated’s first two demos “The Eye of Horus” and “Cemeteral Gardens”.
The compilation opens with “The Eye of Horus”, the 1998 demo. After a standard instrumental intro, we get a taste of early Decapitated tech-death with its title track “The Eye of Horus”, a mix of technical tremolo picked and string skipping riffs, tossed in with groovier power chord arrangements that fans would not become familiar with again till a few releases later in their catalog. This is Decapitated as they exploded into the scene, the upstart teenagers stealing the limelight from veteran death metal acts at the time. The album marches on with “Blessed”, the track that spawned the creation of Tasmanian titans Psycroptic, with its fast-paced opening riff. Tracks like “Blessed” remind us in 2021 of how Decapitated added their own flavor to the burgeoning technical death metal scene and cemented their niche for decades to come. Title track “The First Damned” and “Nine Steps” are as technical as they are abrasive.
“The First Damned” is a unique track in that it appears as if Decapitated smushed together two disjointed themes with a very abrupt dead-stop transition. Later releases in the Decapitated catalog repeat this kind of songwriting, albeit with a smoother transition and some semblance of thematic congruence.
In direct contrast “Danse Macabre” is a complete waste of airwaves, a simplistic and cliched B-grade horror theme that serves close to no purpose and is thematically incongruous. These grievances are alleviated when we remember that The Eye of Horus demo was released when the band were teens and would be ridiculed if done so later in their career. “The Eye of Horus” section concludes with a cover of Slayer’s “Mandatory Suicide”, with their own tonal flourish. What is confusing yet again, that every one of the tracks featured on “The Eye of Horus” was re-released on 2000’s “The First Damned” and re-recorded and released on their debut record “Winds of Creation”.
The second half of “The First Damned” is their first-ever released demo “Cemeteral Gardens”, the first word of which I could not find to be a real word and something made up to perhaps be an adjective form of “cemetery”. On this half of the record, the youthful yet immature songwriting cuts through in a more pronounced way. After yet another stereotypical instrumental intro, we get “Destiny”, a more straightforward tremolo-picked death metal track. “Way of Salvation” features more melodic arrangements with backing synth pads which would be considered tropey in modern eyes, but was reasonably unique in the genre in that timeframe.
What is undeniable is that Decapitated was comprised of superior musicians. Guitarist and lead songwriter Vogg is now an entire industry unto himself and has spawned his own microgenre approach of writing groovy technical death. Drummer Vitek (RIP) is an absolute monster behind the kit, it is nearly impossible to believe that at the time of recording Cemeteral Gates, he was twelve years old! Vocalist Sauron was as key to the Decapitated sound as Vogg/Vitek, and later replacements would forever be compared and disregarded in favor of bringing Sauron back.
Before we got the magic of “Spheres of Madness” we had “The First Damned!”
The First Damned, this time around is a version of Decapitated tracks released not once, not twice, but three times in some shape or form, which calls into question the motivation behind the release. However, Decapitated’s early work will always be fondly remembered, and The First Damned is a testament to just how seminal Decapitated is to the genre, and how their innovative songwriting still stands the test of time.