Primitive Origins: Sarcofagus’ ‘Envoy of Death’

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

We love our Finnish metal around here, as our recent U.S. edition of Rotting Ways to Misery proves, so with Nuclear War Now!’s reissue of early Finnish metal band Sarcofagus’ Envoy of Death LP next week, we thought it would be a good time to revisit this album, the second from the band, considered Finland’s first metal group. They released the “Go to Hell/All Those Lies” single in 1979, then the next year released their first two full-lengths; Envoy of Death is the second of those two, and today we dive in to see if it’s worth the reissue.

The title track kicks things off, and it’s awesome, delivering a very old-Pentagram slab of doomy proto-metal, things heavy enough but also with enough keyboard washes to keep it of the era; this band could have easily played with Deep Purple or Black Sabbath based on this tune. Right off the bat here, this band establishes themselves as proto-metal heavy hitters. Solid, approved.

“Deadly Game” has an absolutely killer opening riff, and then more killer riffs, a very killer solo, then… yup, even more killer riffs. Wow, smart move here, the band coming out strong with the opening track then taking it up a notch here with this excellent tune.

“Wheels of Destruction,” I’m thinking Alice Cooper suddenly, and it’s not (entirely) because songs with the word “Wheels” in the title always make think Coop. It’s because of the brisk and mellow sounds, the unease in the guitar work—quickly becoming an album highlight, this guitar work is—and the overall spooky vibe. Some good aggressive vocals here too.

“Insane Rebels” is like early Accept (again, not just saying that because of the song title) with Uriah Heep keyboards, a compact and economic rocker that flirts with good-time rock and roll chord changes, an amusing push-and-pull from a band whose press photo features them standing in a graveyard (and kinda smiling… the push and pull….)

“Die to Win” is another winner, and the comparisons to Pentagram come through pretty loud and clear here. This song features, you guessed it, great riffs, more good, aggressive vocals, and some spooky atmospherics.

“Stolen Salvation,” here we go with some of the heaviest guitar work on the record, some of this stuff positively rubbing shoulders with Sabbath, smooth and soulful solo stepping in to steal the show. Closer “Black Contract” is excellent in its first half, a very noisy piece of chaos rock that devolves into a cinematic atmospheric bit, whistling, spaghetti western from hell, batshit guitar solo… look, this song is 9:29 and the band is at the end of a pretty involved album, they’re blowing off some steam.

I love the album’s theme, as well: each of the six songs tells the story of a character that has, according to the press release, “followed their own unique paths to their ultimate conclusions and now face final judgment,” with the opening track being an introduction to it all. This explains some of the bizarre lyrics I heard racing past, and it’s a pretty compelling theme, especially for a proto-metal record from 1980.

Overall, this one definitely gets the Primitive Origins seal of approval, Nuclear War Now! doing the right and admirable thing by keeping it alive, Finland’s first metal band doing the heavy lifting decades ago, and that doesn’t go unnoticed by us today as extreme metal continues to bulldozer forth, forging new ground but never letting the pioneers be forgotten.

Sarcofagus’ Envoy of Death – The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: Nope.

Heaviness factor: Heavy like the lighter side of Pentagram, or the heaviest of Deep Purple.

Obscura Triviuma: Sarcofagus mainman Kimmo Kuusniemi is a filmmaker and has made videos for pop queen Madonna and our own Vader.

Other albums: 1980’s Cycle of Life.

Related bands: Kimmo Kuusniemi Band.

Alright, fine, if you must: Sneak a beer into the graveyard and crank this up and it’ll be a good time.