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Decomposed - * * 1/2

NY Scum - * * * *

David Berkowitz, the Son Of Sam, was a satanic paranoid schizophrenic postal worker who stalked the streets of New York for a few months in the seventies, leaving in his wake 6 dead bodies, a slew of victims, and a terrorized city. The Disciples Of Berkowitz were a paranoid schizophrenic psychotic death metal band that stalked the streets of Albany for a couple years, leaving in their wake several wrecked clubs, damaged eardrums, broken guitar strings, and terrorized audiences everywhere. The legacy left by David Berkowitz is a collection of letters containing cryptic messages and paranoid delusions, a 365 year prison sentence, and another shitty Spike Lee movie. The legacy left behind by Berkowitz's disciples is somewhat more coherent and much more entertaining. This legacy is contained on two albums which would have been demos if they weren't the only fucking thing the band ever did. So while it may take years to sort through the terror and delusion of a homicidal maniac, it will only take about 45 minutes to sort through DOB's entire body of work.

The lineup here features the omnipresent Kasey Dorr of Section 8 and Ill Remembered as master of ceremonies, Bob of Skinless on drums, and 3 other talented individuals whom I have never heard of. The basic approach with DOB is sludgy groove laden death metal. Conceptually they remind me of Cannibal Corpse with a strong infusion of bad horror movies. Musically, the vocals are in the same vein as this band, but the music is slowed down enough to offer dynamic and breathing room, making it a lot more coherent than anything by Cannibal Corpse. The analogy that comes to mind is one of a sledgehammer taking the place of a jackhammer, the work is slower but the weight and power are concentrated and used more effectively. I really can't understand many of lyrics, but enough to get the picture. This band is a misanthrope's dream come true. They hate everyone and everything, are excessively violent, antisocial, irresponsible, and consistently offensive to the point of being sickening. Pretty much everything a good death metal band should be.

Negative points on the first album go to the vocal style which really doesn't kick in until the second half. It's buried, sludgy, and unintelligable for the most part prior to this. Unearthed however is the sharpest sickest vocal I have heard on either album. Truly feirce bouts of distorted screaming, disturbing lyrics, and a very evil sounding song. Musically, the album falters in that it never really locks into a solid sound. The sludgy power chords are alternated with speed sections and the result is chaotic. Put to Bed With A Shovel shifts between sludge and speed and never settles down until the end of the song. The ending however is a really good ominous groove set in time with the repeated impacts of a shovel gracing the background. This is really dark, and the sound effects and samples are something DOB continued to employ to a greater effect on the next album. Split Wide Open continues the trend of good songs in the latter half of the album with heavy riffing guitar working on a simple chord change. It is monotonous but still heavy as fuck.

NY Scum then proves to be the apex of DOB's short brilliant career. Kasey rocks the mic with a renewed vengence and really settles into the style as a death metal vocalist. The natural baritone of his voice adds an unusual resonance to a vocal style which Cannibal Corpse made a cliche. The vocals have been cleaned up a lot and offer much more dynamic range of style, inciting some of the terror of Section 8's heavier moments. Musically, the band has progressed light years ahead of their original inception and has really found a way to make slow progressions and power chords work in a death metal format. They have created a hybrid style all their own and have nailed the points which were missed on Decomposed. The intro track is a witness to this progression, leading the album off with a sonic attack of heavy repetitive progressions and much better drumming. They even throw in a guitar solo. The mix has been cleaned up and the sludge has turned to power and precision in its wake. Conceptually, the album is even darker. It features some nice use of samples to set the tone and break it up a little bit, making the album much easier to understand. I Hate is a misanthropic theme song, which finds DOB actually injecting some humor into their style. The chorus simply states "Fuck you I hate you" (as if there was any doubt), and it is extremely catchy. The band plays off this quality with a request "everybody sing along", and it's very hard not to. The vocals are more dynamic. They have abandoned the fierce tone of Unearthed for growling, choruses, and screams. The guitar is still simplistic, but the extra emphasis on groove and rhythm makes the riffs tight as hell. Bob is perfect in swing and pound drumming with bursts of speed in just the right places, carrying the simple weight of the rhythms to their fullest potential. She Deserved It samples a Faces Of Death episode in which a man about to be executed reflects on his crime, "All I wanted was her god damn wallet and the bitch gave me a hard time". Fucking hell could you possibly get any bleaker than this. One half second snippet of a rap sample injected in just the right place shows the incredible dynamic rhythm at work here, set off by a drum fill kicking into growled vocals. The guitar is fast but doesn't sacrifice a bit of its heaviness for the added speed. The intro to Mr. Johnson is simply screamed for maximum effect and is very powerful. Then it settles into traditional sludge/grind with hyperspeed breaks. The lyric to this song is about the most disturbing on either album, set off nicely by samples explaining the true nature of the crime. The full on bludgeon of Anal Septic Date Rape segues right into a recording of hippies singing that Jesus doesn't live here anymore, then moves into the final echo laden acoustic guitar of Wither . This is a subtle remorseful ending to a spree of blood guts and horror, like coming down nice and quietly off of a 3 day binge of LSD, amphetamines, and bad slasher movies.

The final verdict on Disciples Of Berkowitz is that they were brilliant, but capable of a lot more than this. However just like every Albany band worth a damn, they worked up to the point where they were coming into their own sound, developing great talent, and truly ready to move on to bigger things, then they fucking broke up and went nowhere. Listening to Disciples Of Berkowitz is kind of the same as watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's excessively violent for no apparant reason, unapologetic, seriously disturbed, socially irresponsible, and slightly evil, but for some reason consistently entertaining. It's kind of like a 45 minute crash course in criminal psychology. They carved their own place in a musical genre filled with repetitive assembly line clones, and injected a heavy dose of originality and talent into a well worn style. It's a damn shame that no one will ever hear them but what the fuck did you expect honestly.

* * 1/2 / * * * *

Reviewed: August, 2000

Update: Disciples of Berkowitz is back together. Greg Kennedy, that big scary motherfucker from Straight Jacket and Wasteform is doing vocals now and that shit is fucking brutal. This band is even better than they were before. Pick that shit up at Music Shack in Albany and prepare to have your neck fucking snapped by this band. Metal.

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