Justify Your Shitty Taste: Convulse’s “Reflections”

Black metal “went weird” around 1997  For most metal journalists, this was actually a celebrated course of events. But when you look a few years earlier at period when death metal started veering in all sorts of directions, you get a good portion of people pissing and moaning; generally those who weren’t old enough to be in school, let alone be into death metal at the time. And while certain bands definitely do deserve to be maligned for their ill-made choices (see: Desultory), others recorded some of my favorite records of their careers. It’s easy to defend Wolverine Blues now, but try that shit back in the mid-’90s and you might as well be writing “Justify Your Shitty Taste: Kid Fiddling“ with the response you’d get.

I’m guilty of favoring a lot of those records—or Massive Killing Capacity or even Symbolic—over those bands’ older work, mostly because in 1994 I was still a kid and this is what was available at the time. When Relapse and Nuclear Blast were distribution partners and releasing Death… Is Just the Beginning comps, that was basically my first window into the underground before I found local zines and college radio. Because of that, and my interest in what would eventually turn into “death ‘n’ roll,” I latched on to Convulse’s “The Rite of Sunshine” because it felt the closest to Wolverine Blues to me. I then tracked down Reflections, which eventually set me down a path through the various Finnish death metal oddities. But that’s a story for another day, if you’re good, and if Albert doesn’t have me shot by then.

Like I said, I was young when I first heard Reflections and since there wasn’t really much of an internet to find anything beyond porn that looked like Super Mario Bros or really stupid fan theories about hidden messages in Carcass songs, it wasn’t like I was able to discover Convulse’s previous iteration until I stumbled upon their Live in Pain EP at Milwaukee Metalfest for a fucking dollar some years later. So, I didn’t have any concept of them going mainstream or whatever cliché you choose, but I’m sure you’ll let me know all about it.

I still listen to Reflections a few times a year; it’s aged incredibly well, but still feels adventurous in a manner that isn’t shoving its adventure-covered peck in your face screaming “LOOK AT HOW FUCKING ZANY I AM,” like some bands seem to go out of their way to do these days. Vocally, it’s definitely not as guttural or harsh—an outlier in their discography—but fits the more rock-based vibe of the record. I don’t think I could take belching vocals seriously mixed into this; it’d be like taking a shit in the middle of coitus. Unless you’re German, it would take you out of the moment and you’d miss the synergy elsewhere.

It seems like half of Finland added techno breaks to their records at one point or another from ’94-’97, but I’m pretty sure Convulse was one of the first with album closer “The New Arrival.” It’s somewhat jarring, but it never felt too out of place (though it certainly wasn’t among my favorites on the record). Songs like “Years of Decay” and “Memories” really carried a lot of my mix tapes at the time because they had a soaring rock ‘n’ roll element that was still brutal (to me, at the time) but had a certain indefinable quality that over 20 years later causes me to still reach for Reflections over a lot of things. It’s a record that helped shape my tastes in death metal from just digging super brutal and, quite honestly, fucking stupid records, to wanting something more, some kind of depth from my death metal. I’ve never been one for really over the top Cannibal Corpse-style lyrics. I’ve always been drawn to the shit that seems to have more thought put into it, which was a key element of most Finnish death metal bands. I’m not sure if this makes me a better person, but it probably does.

Convulse is the rare bird for inclusion to this segment: Normally the bands I defend went to shit after the record I write about. But Convulse has never had a bad record. Their early stuff is excellent morbid death metal. This era is one of my benchmarks for death ‘n’ roll, and the stuff they’ve recorded since reforming seems to meet both eras in the middle. In my eyes, there’s no drop off point, just different moments in time. However, I do remember that after Reflections, there was word that they handed in a demo that forced Relapse tell them to go pound shit, a demo described as “like Pearl Jam,” which, coming from a death metal band at that time, is akin to saying it sounds “like Cold Lake.”

I’ve been morbidly curious about this ever since, but I’m sure it’s a thirst that will never be quenched. It’ll be up there on the shelf with a lot of mythical recordings we’ll never get to hear, for better or for worse. But what could be considered a bigger missed opportunity is that no one’s put Reflections out on lemon-lime vinyl.

You can thank me for the idea by sending me a copy when you do it. And for the rest of you, you’re missing out if you’ve written this record off.