"Stepping on Angels... Before Dawn" is a compilation album by US death metal act Immolation. The album was released through Repulse Records in January 1995. By 1995 Immolation were already quite a seasoned death metal act, who had formed as early as in 1986 under the Defcon monicker, which was soon changed to Rigor Mortis. They had several demo releases under their belt, but only one full-length studio album in "Dawn of Possession (1991)", which was released through Roadrunner Records. Unfortunately around the time when Immolation were ready to begin work on their second full-length studio album, they and quite a few other death metal acts were dropped by Roadrunner Records and that unfortunate situation send the band in search of a new label. It took them quite a few years before they signed a deal with Metal Blade Records and their second full-length studio album "Here in After" wasn´t released until 1996. In the meantime Repulse Records took the opportunity to release this compilation, which features both demo tracks by Rigor Mortis and Immolation and live tracks by the latter mentioned.
The first three tracks on the compilation are taken from the "Decomposed" demo by Rigor Mortis, which was released in July 1987. While the influence from especially early Slayer and Possessed are obvious in the tracks from the "Decomposed" demo, the semi-growling vocal delivery certainly points in a death metal direction and I´d call this an early example of death metal rather than raw thrash metal. The "Warriors of Doom" track from the unreleased one-track "Warriors of Doom (1987)" demo (the track would be released on the post-humous "Rigor Mortis" single in 1990), further points in a death metal direction. All four Rigor Mortis tracks feature raw demo quality sound productions, but they are rather charming sounding.
Next up are the two tracks from the first demo recorded under the Immolation monicker. Both "Immolation" and "Dawn of Possession" would end up on the band´s debut full-length studio album "Dawn of Possession (1991)". It´s interesting to note the even though the demo was recorded almost exactly one year after the "Decomposed" demo by Rigor Mortis, the band are now a fully fledged death metal act. There are next to no thrash metal influences in the music anymore. This is savage, brutal and really fast played. Not completely unlike the early Morbid Angel recordings. The sound production is raw and kind of muddy.
The next three tracks are taken from the second Immolation demo, which was recorded in June 1989. Like the case was on the first demo, all tracks from this demo would also end up on "Dawn of Possession (1991)". Compared to the two tracks from the first Immolation demo the sound quality on the three tracks on this demo are less muddy and you can hear more details. Listening to a "classic" track like "Despondent Souls" in it´s original form is for me personally an absolute delight. There was actually a fourth track recorded during the same sessions titled "Infectious Blood", which didn´t make the final cut for the demo, but is included here. The track was later re-titled to "Fall In Disease" and included on "Dawn of Possession (1991)".
The next track on "Stepping on Angels... Before Dawn" is a version of "Despondent Souls" recorded in January 1990 for the first "At Death's Door" compilation. It didn´t end up on the compilation though because of time issues.
The remaining tracks on the compilation are bootleg quality live recordings from 1988-1989. Although the band are undoubtedly well playing already at this point in their career, the sound quality is a bit hard to appreciate even for a hardcore fan like myself. But I guess you get a good insight to how the band sounded like in a raw live setting.
"Stepping on Angels... Before Dawn" is a compilation aimed specifically at hardcore fans, and I don´t see anyone but the most hardcore fans getting much out of this release. With that said the quality of the demo recordings is pretty good and while the sound quality of the live recordings isn´t that impressive you still get a good feeling of how the band sounded live in those days. A 3 star (60%) rating isn´t unfair.