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I am approaching this collection of Demolition Hammer's material from a different viewpoint. I have just recently discovered this band through this double disc collection. For someone new to the band, this is a great way to find out what I have missed. And what have I missed exactly? Well Demolition Hammer is clearly an underrated and brutal band from the waning days of the thrash metal movement of the late 1980's/early 1990's. This fact is proven from the first two-thirds of the material presented here.
Demolition Hammer seems to reside on the borderline of thrash metal and death metal. Too brutal to be totally thrash, but not brutal enough to the same extent as some of the early death metal innovators such as Death, Master, or even Possessed. Nevertheless, Demolition Hammer has a lot to offer on its first two albums which take up the entire first disc and the first several songs on the second disc.
The riffing and solos on the Tortured Existence and Epidemic of Violence parts of the collection are extremely intense, allowing little time to stop and consider what the hell is going on in the music. The vocals are fairly typical for thrash and are one of the weaker points to the band. Vocalist Steve Reynolds unfortunately does not utilize much range in his vocal style. One of the strong points, and something that is fairly unique for thrash metal, is that the bass is audible. This is great because what Reynolds lacks as a vocalist, he more than makes up for in his creativity with the bass guitar. As great as many of the songs are in this part of the collection, unfortunately it tends to all run together at a certain point. That being said, there are some truly amazing songs in this such as "Mercenary Aggression" and "Epidemic of Violence".
The second part of the second disc is the Time Bomb album, which was originally planned by the band to be released under a different name. Century Media though refused to release the album unless it was under the Demolition Hammer moniker. This gives the second disc a disjointed feel as Time Bomb is not a thrash metal album. Time Bomb can best be described as a groove metal album more in tune with Vulgar-era Pantera or Foul Taste-era Pro-Pain. As a stand-alone album under a different name, this would have been a perfectly acceptable release. It is actually reasonably catchy and memorable, in particular the Devo cover "Mongoloid", however as a Demolition Hammer release, it fails to live up to the promise exhibited by the prior two albums. It also suffers from a lack of guitar solos, which were impressive on the first two releases and are now completely absent.
The additional bonus tracks tacked onto the end of the second disc are two pre-production demo tracks from the Time Bomb album. These are completely superfluous and could have easily been left off of the final product. The only real difference is that they have poorer production value than the Time Bomb tracks.
All in all, this is a good release in order to check out the entirety of the Demolition Hammer catalog. The question is left to the consumer as to whether they would want to check out the entire catalog. Certainly Tortured Existence and Epidemic of Violence should be required listening for any thrash metal fan, but Time Bomb is unnecessary. Finding the individual albums is a little bit of a chore and this does make the Anthology a little more desirable.
One last complaint that I have is the way that the two discs are divided. I understand the need to provide the music in some kind of chronological order, but I am less clear on why it was necessary to split up Epidemic the way it was done. This is clearly the strongest album of Demolition Hammer's career, so why subject it to this? It would have been better to present the catalog as a three disc set with maybe a few more demo tracks or live tracks corresponding with each release. I'm not normally a big fan of bonus tracks, but this seems like a better idea than the way Century Media handled this.
Compilations like this are a bit tricky to review. With the exception of two pre-production demos, everything on here has already been released. Thus, for analysis of the songs included, one might as well just read the original album reviews. People who own those albums will find nothing of value here, and while that's equally true of any Iron Maiden greatest hits album, Demolition Hammer is in a slightly different boat.
The short version is that this release summarizes Demolition Hammer's entire career, even beyond the tracks.
We already know the story. The band released two thrash-tastic albums in the early 90s, had some lineup switches, and was forced by their money-grubbing label (Century Media) to release their final album under the original name, despite the band's protests. Oh yeah, and that third album sucked. Just check the album information to verify all that. The story of this anthology begins after the band's demise. Century Media, having signed bands like Warbringer, noticed that there was money to be made in this whole "thrash revival" movement. It's also far cheaper simply to re-release old material than to sign a new band, pay for the recording of an album, pay for its production, and support the band as they tour promoting said album. Thus, this seemed like the perfect time to bust out the old Demolition Hammer tapes.
Thrash fans would eat this up. Demolition Hammer seemed to be an underground fan favorite, limited in accessibility due to the poor distribution of the original albums. As far as things like this normally go, the label contacts the old band members to get permission, reprint the material, and send a royalty check as the cash comes flowing in. The band's happy to earn more money without working, the label's happy to earn money without costing them much, and the fans are happy to finally get the albums without paying upwards of $50 each.
But this being Century Media we're talking about, things were bound to go horribly wrong.
Okay, Vinny Daze, the original drummer, is dead. So contacting him was most likely out of the question. There's no problem there. The problem starts with the fact that Century Media only ever contacted Derek Sykes, the guitarist. None of the other guitarists or drummers, let alone Steve Reynolds, who, along with Derek, was the core of the band. If that's not sketchy enough already, Derek Sykes did not want the material re-released. He feels the band is "part of his past" (from the liner notes). As the initial demos were self-released, CM had to rely on the members giving them the tapes... which Sykes denied. The first two albums, however, were under CM's control, and thus could be re-released with or without the band's permission.
Take a minute to ponder what's going on here. The ONLY member of the band they contacted did not want anything to do with this. CM released it anyways. Do you really think the members are getting royalty checks for this release? And that's the truly disturbing part of this. It's simply a blatant cash-grab on CM's part (not that this is anything new), against the wishes of the band. And yet, as the original albums are long out of print, you can only purchase them from second-hand sellers - also resulting in the band not getting any money out of it.
It's certainly less than an ideal solution to purchase this release, but for anyone who missed the albums the first time around, this is unfortunately the best solution. But enough whining about the behind-the-scenes of the compilation.
Unfortunately, CM's priority on profits led to a compromise in the layout of this pair of discs. Namely, the fact that it's a pair. There are three DH albums spread across two discs. The albums are long enough that you cannot fit two full albums in any combination on one disc. Thus, Epidemic of Violence gets split, with half sharing with Tortured Existence and the other half with Time Bomb. TE and EoV make sense together, but the problem is that EoV and Time Bomb sound nothing alike, making the first fifteen minutes of disc 2 sound... misplaced. And it also means you can't just completely ignore disc 2. Naturally, the better solution would have simply been to put each album on a separate disc... but that would cost Century Media a whole dollar more! Clearly, we couldn't have that. So the fans are stuck with this Frankenstein's monster of a track listing. Thank Satan for the digital age, where we can rip the music to our own discs as we please, no?
Another issue here lies with the booklet layout. You see that shitty green-gray color on the cover? That's the color scheme for the whole booklet, interrupted only by the occasional picture of the original album art. Even the discs are just a slightly blue-er version of the cover booklet. A truly half-assed job. And what else are we offered in the booklet? The fact that they included the lyrics is nice, but that's about all. The only other thing in there is the opening page, which is essentially an apology from CM about why there isn't more, and a paragraph of praise for Demolition Hammer from John Kevill of Warbringer. Whoop-de-doo. Oh yeah, and there's one small picture of the old band. In black and white. Tinted with a more yellowish tinge of that same shitty green-gray. Supposedly CM spent years trying to get this release out, but honestly, it looks more like they spent a day. I've found more visually attractive things in my toilet bowl.
All complaints aside, the fact still remains that this is Demolition Hammer's music. The first two albums are still awesome by today's standards, and this is the easiest legal(?) way to acquire them. Thus, if you do not already have them, this release is essential for thrash fans, no matter how flawed it is. You will not regret having these in your collection. Hell, even though Time Bomb is unabashedly groove metal, I'd still rather listen to that than any post-Cowboys From Hell Pantera and their unholy groove monkey spawn.