There's no point judging music artifacts on the merit of audile quality, not when the artifact in question represents the birth of one of the greatest metal bands in history, DEATH. Instead, we should embrace the buzzbombing, ratchety and frankly horrid cassette-era transfer of basement tapes comprising MANTAS' "Death by Metal" as a peek into the origins of future genius.
Much like HELLHAMMER preceding CELTIC FROST, MANTAS marks the beginning point for Chuck Schuldiner's journey towards inevitable greatness. MANTAS was also rounded (or routed, more like it) by drummer/vocalist Kam Lee (also of BONE GNAWER, DENIAL FIEND and MASSACRE fame) and Rick Rozz, ex-MASSACRE product and eventual second guitarist on DEATH's "Leprosy" album.
To be frank, the ancient five track ambience of "Death by Metal" is strictly for DEATH fans and Gen-X metalheads who can tell you who ZNOWHITE, BLOOD FEAST and DEAF DEALER were, much less MANTAS. For Schuldiner's future purposes, the beginning threads of "Evil Dead" from DEATH's "Scream Bloody Gore" album are served here for analysis in three versions including demo and rehearsal form. The same applies to "Legion of Doom", "Power of Darkness", "Mantas" and "Death by Metal".
In some ways, the "Death by Metal" tracks come off like a metallic hike of early GBH and BROKEN BONES, complete with the squelching feedback and clopping tom rolls of Kam Lee. Lee is out of control with his vocals and if you're not a devotee of this stuff, you will be writhing on the floor from his uninhibited yelping.
The key attraction, of course, is Chuck Schuldiner. Messier than a teenager's bedroom, what you're witnessing in MANTAS is one of the fastest strummers the scene ever knew and already Schuldiner was refining his solos to outlandish proficiency. These early glimpses into the transition of "Evil Dead" are worth the listen alone, but Schuldiner also shines on "Power of Darkness" and "Legion of Doom". The rehearsal track of "Rise of Satan" likewise exhibits Schuldiner's future articulation, much less blinding speed, sloppy as the pace may be here. Shoddy drumming aside, Schuldiner is a freaking maniac on "Rise of Satan" and DEATH fans will be happily torn to pieces over this one.
Relapse Records, which has done a magnificent job showcasing Schuldiner's work in DEATH over the past few years, hits a high mark by having the guts to release the MANTAS tapes. There's virtually nothing here that reveals Schuldiner's mindframe for later-year DEATH albums such as "Individual Thought Patterns" and "The Sound of Perseverance". However, his litany of progression and aggression is well-insinuated on "Death by Metal".
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.