Triumph of doom-death
Asphyx were formed by drummer Bob Bagchus and guitarist Tony Brookhuis in the town of Oldenzaal, Netherlands, near the German border, circa 1987. They were but voracious teenagers fed daily on the rotten meat of Hellhammer, the infected bones of Venom and the brains (read: genius) of Celtic Frost. Long before The Rack terrorized speakers, frightened label bosses and enthralled legions of death metallers, Asphyx in their proto incarnation relied on power, volume and purpose—three traits that carried into the present. After three demos, one now-definitive 7-inch, one discarded album—released six years later in full—and several ill-fated label deals, Bagchus wasn’t going to cower to the infernal winds of change or fold after several unlucky (if absurd) hands. By the time 1990 dawned deadly on Asphyx, the Dutchmen were a formidable force. Brookhuis had exited and guitarist Eric Daniels had stepped in, as bassist/vocalist Theo Loomans moved over to second guitar, allowing Martin van Drunen—fresh off a U.S. tour with Pestilence and out for revenge—to front the band.
The Rack itself wasn’t the product of a foursome, however. Loomans, ever the troublemaker, bowed out, leaving Daniels, Bagchus and van Drunen in a proverbial sweatbox. With songs to reconfigure—80 percent of The Rack originated from the band’s label-free debut, Embrace the Death—lyrics to recast and a deadline looming for a nascent Century Media, Asphyx could have easily ended it with a slice to the neck. But they didn’t. They marched on, resolute to make good on a self-made promise to be the loudest and heaviest death metal band.
Certainly, Century Media weren’t ready for Asphyx—even if Promo ’91 portended the shape of cruelty to come—but death-hungry fans from Buffalo and London to Stockholm and Chicago waited with bated (and putrid) breath. Asphyx’s network of tape-traders, letter-writers and flyer-distributors had for years seeded the underground with nefarious stories, repellent rumors and sickening whispers of incoming death… and they got it.
When The Rack was released in the spring of 1991, death metal was in full swing. The genre of the unsung, the disenfranchised and the wicked had wormed its way to the surface, spilling blood, guts and malodorous slime everywhere. The frantic pace of 1991—Dismember’s Like an Ever Flowing Stream, Morbid Angel’s Blessed Are the Sick, Autopsy’s Mental Funeral and Suffocation’s Effigy of the Forgotten were but four pivotal albums that year—was suddenly given the slow turn of the dagger. The Rack had literally materialized out of the cellar of a dilapidated Dutch factory—called Harrow Studios—to foment discord and barbarity. Expertly crafted and strategically positioned, the razor claws and rusty spikes of “Vermin,” “Diabolical Existence,” “Evocation,” “Wasteland of Terror” and the title track served as the soundtrack to Asphyx’s mayhem on their global debut. Unlike many drummers of the day, Bagchus was economical in his caveman pound. To his left and front, Daniels offered up the kind of magic forgotten in the age of shredders and axe-slingers. Meanwhile, van Drunen sent shockwaves through the scene, his disquieting growls, roars and screams trademarking Asphyx into infamy. The Rack was (and still is) no-compromise death metal, singular then (and now) in its brutal ways.