The Earth Is the Insane Asylum of the Universe

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By the time Asylum emerged out of the Washington, D.C. suburbs in the mid-'80s with their quirky spin on doom metal, the region had already spawned at least two seminal, albeit still largely underground, titans of the form: Scott "Wino" Weinrich's then temporarily comtaose the Obsessed, and, from the depths of the early ‘70s, Bobby Leibling's Pentagram. But as evidenced by 1985's The Earth Is the Insane Asylum of the Universe demo (released in 2009 by Shadow Kingdom Records), Asylum appeared set on trailblazing a twisting trajectory of their own by infusing the leaden pace of traditional doom with virtually unprecedented levels of amp distortion and recurring speed bursts inspired by Motörhead and the surrounding ‘80s thrash scene. What's more, beneath all of this uninhibited brawn lay the brains of a progressive rock education at the hands of ‘70s nerds like Rush and Yes, which, in combination with those more visceral tendencies, admittedly produced as much head scratching as admiration, due to the convoluted arrangements and incongruent time changes marking tracks like "Asylum" and "Moment of Truth." And floating above it all were, alternately, Wino-like snarls and remorseful whines reminiscent of, yes, Ozzy Osbourne, but even more so of Terry Jones (of British occult fiends Pagan Altar). All of which conspires with inadequate production befitting a demo to severely limit the potential appeal of these recordings; but still, out of the murk arise at least three undeniable highlights, beginning with the balls-out frenzy of "Motherless," decelerating with the excellent "Bell Witch (Red Skull)" (featuring especially malevolent riffs and melodies atop a walking bassline poached from Black Sabbath's "Heaven and Hell"), and closing epic "Dying Breed/Distant Friend," by which time Asylum's Byzantine thought process has finally begun making sense. Not enough to earn them a recording contract during their lifespan, though, and even all of these years later, The Earth Is the Insane Asylum of the Universe will only make sense to the most devoted of heavy metal anthropologists.

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