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These days, Polish extreme metal has an identifiable sound, or at least a few common traits. Great, double bass-heavy drums. Hoarse vocals. A sense of militant urgency. I can hear all of these things in Hate, Vader, Mgla, Batoushka and Behemoth. Even though those projects are now branching off into their own unique sounds, there are common threads. That commonality reflects a tacit agreement across the genre. We know what extreme metal is, now. It’s basic texts are writ.

In 1996 that wasn’t so true, and bands were still prodding at the membranes encircling the cell, trying to get it to expand or divide. Piotr Weltrowski, best known as the early guest keyboardist in Behemoth, was one of those musicians pushing at the membrane. His little-heard solo project, December’s Fire plays with gothic and industrial keyboards more than guitar. On their 1996 album Vae Victis, songs like “Pragnę Twej Krwi” find their way into distorted guitar assaults, they just stop to smell the flowers along the way. Adam “Nergal” Darski of Behemoth takes a few turns behind the mic to keep things gritty, but this little-heard gem overall represents that golden time when extreme metal could have meant anything at all. ‘

Arachnophobia Records is rereleasing Vae Victis on April 24. Stream it below.

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