1990: Rust in Peace. Seasons in the Abyss. Mysteries about Life and Death. Uh, well, no, that’s not quite how those stories usually start, but 1990 was indeed the year that Mexican thrash/deathsters Toxodeth released their charmingly unorthodox debut, Mysteries about Life and Death, on the infamous Wild Rags Records (hails). The album isn’t considered a classic because, to be frank, it’s a bit of a mess, but that’s precisely why it is a classic, just a different kind of classic.
To understand Toxodeth, one must dive deep into the songs on this album, deep past that picture-postcard “spooky” cover, songs such as insane opener “The Beacon” (a 36-second acoustic instrumental, “Intro,” prefaces it, and is actually not half bad). But “The Beacon,” man, that’s how you start an album, six-plus minutes of extremely haphazard death/thrash, everything barely held together at the seams, production pretty brutal, everything about as cult as you can get. This album’s charm is in the chaos of it all.
Alright then, speaking of chaos, damn, here’s “Phantasm,” which does a few things right off the bat: tries to be a horror movie soundtrack, tries to establish Toxodeth mainman Raul Guzman (hails) as some sort of Mexican Satch, and tries to cram SO MUCH into one (granted, long) song that you’re just left spinning, drained by the end of it. No doubt, Guzman does lay down tons of great riffs here, from Teutonic blackthrash to Floridian DM, but there’s this cartoonish undercurrent to it all, which is countered by the scarier-than-Brujeria vibe this album also manages to hold. I love “Phantasm,” and part of the reason why I love it is because it’s absolutely insane, Guzman just soloing and soloing and soloing and that poor drummer and the very idea of song structure just lost in translation but man we all love metal, we all really love metal.
“Visit of the Dead,” this is it right here. This is why this album rules. Observe the Halloween theme, where the band actually hits wrong notes and gets off time from each other. Observe then the pretty awesome mid-tempo Sepulturian stomp that follows. Observe when they actually successfully return to the Halloween theme later in the song but much faster. This song rules because I’ve never heard another song remotely like it.
At some point, “Doom Predictions” starts but you’re too stunned from “Visit of the Dead” to really notice, at this point, much of this album post-Halloween theme becoming a bit of a blur, the band seemingly just going faster and faster, things sounding like Sodom on speed, Cannibal Corpse totally plastered; argh, what is happening here, and did they record this entire album in one take?
“Graveyard” is next; see “Doom Predictions.” More of the same chaos, and I love it all. I especially love when the music stops and Guzman solos, because it’s a bit of a headache but it’s completely authentic and, for better or for worse, without influence or peer.
“Mausoleum” starts and you start to think, good lord, has there even been vocals for the past 10 minutes? I’m not sure, and I don’t think there’s vocals in this song until there’s been at least a few guitar solos. I’m starting to think at this point that the drummer regretted signing on (note from Metal Archives: “In the 84-94 period, over 35 bassists and drummers played in Toxodeth.”), because I’m pretty sure he’s about to have a heart attack back there by the time the 30th solo ends at around the 3:30 mark. But he continues racing to the finish line, rest of the band scrambling to keep up with him, everyone almost ending the song at the same time.
“Seeing to Our Ages” I think brings back the Halloween theme for a minute but I’m always just a disaster by the time we’re this deep in the album, so maybe I’m wrong there; getting through to this point in Mysteries about Life and Death is sort of like being punched in the face by extremely drunk skinny young men for 30 minutes while thinking about early death metal, German thrash, and Shrapnel Records. Which brings us to…
“Tales from the Beyond,” which is basically just a whole bunch of soloing followed up by some surprisingly tasteful acoustics, ending the album as it begun, making you the listener, in your stupor, think, yes, goddamnit, this is brilliant stuff, everything had meaning and purpose and focus after all! The chaos was controlled, the sloppiness was on purpose!
But, nah. It was chaos, it was just genuinely sloppy, it was probably recorded under extremely tight conditions. It’s Toxodeth’s first album, it’s one of a kind, and, all joking aside, I love it because the passion for metal these songs contain is unbelievable. It’s so real and honest it’s hard to handle most of the time; it’s a bit of a disaster and it’s one of the most sincere, from the heart, albums I’ve ever heard in decades of listening to extreme metal. There will never be another Mysteries about Life and Death, because it’s almost hard to make metal this messy anymore. It’s hard to be this naive anymore. It’s hard to be this isolated anymore, creating music so earnestly even though it is totally crazy sounding. And that’s why sometimes this album breaks my heart just a little bit before it makes me laugh, makes me bang my head, makes me chuckle in awe, one more time, year after year after year.