Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love, stuff that’s essential listening for students of extreme metal that you may not have ever heard of. Stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. Having already visited Melniboné and the Sprawl, this week we’re going to the Inferno (a.k.a. Cold War-era Czech Republic) for Root’s Hell Symphony (Zeras).
All the Norwegian black metal founders make a big deal about how their music was a reaction against Christianity and the destruction of their cultural heritage. Root actually had something to complain about — let’s just say that if you burned down a historic landmark behind the Iron Curtain, your punishment probably wouldn’t be a few years in a comfy dorm room jail cell. It seems like they managed to slip a few Bathory, Celtic Frost, and Slayer records by the authorities, though (perhaps they conjured the vinyl from the underworld), and that led to a pretty unique blackened thrash noise.
After recording several demos and two full-length records in the (metaphorical) shadow of the Wall, they celebrated their newfound freedom with their first English effort, Hell Symphony, in 1991, while most of the Helvete hanger-ons were still knocking out demos. Unfortunately, due to their geographical separation from the rest of the burgeoning scene, they were never really able to export their evil to western shores (their inability to tour didn’t help, either), and so they’ve never really been viewed as anything more than an interesting footnote. One listen to Hell Symphony shows that they were a lot more than that, though.
A semi-conceptual piece, each song title reflects a different name for His Infernal Majesty, each facet or incarnation receiving its own unique theme. They probably missed a few versions of the devil, but overall it’s a pretty impressive list, replete with the screams of the damned, echoing production, and all the buzz sawing and blast beats a demon could hope for. “Belzebub” serves as an extended instrumental overture, devil choirs at the gates of hell. “Belial” brings you down to the circle of the tyrants. “Lucifer” lives south of heaven, sharing a flat with Tiamat. “Asmodeus” leaves no doubt that he’s in league with Satan, but “Satan” only has interest in his drum circle. “Leviathan” has a giant killer groove for a giant killer fish, “Astaroth” pounds you into submission, and “Loki” screams like snake venom has been dripping into his eyes for eternity (which it has). Root have the number of all the beasts.
Recently reissued by I Hate, Hell Symphony is finally readily available in the US. Root were a victim of circumstance — no label distribution, inability to tour, unfortunate location. They also fell right in between the first and second wave of black metal, so they couldn’t really ride the momentum of either. And, let’s face it: no corpse paint, no credibility. Still, they really do capture that slice of hell pretty effectively. Possibly because they were living in it.