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Before the New York bred thrash stalwarts dropped the hammer on the metal scene with their crushing 1990 LP “Tortured Existence”, and later in 1992 with the brutal “Epidemic of Violence,” Demolition Hammer have released a little-known demo a few years prior. The demo in question, duly titled “Skull Fracturing Nightmare,” contains four tracks, three of which have never been re-recorded for future studio releases. And that is a damn shame, because these ruthless songs are pretty fucking great additions to Demolition Hammer's legendary thrash catalog.
Or perhaps, it's probably best that they didn't re-record them. The lo-fi demo recording quality adds many, many layers of heaviness and sheer brutality to the mix. While “Tortured Existence,” “Epidemic of Violence,” as well as the maligned “Time Bomb” had adequately heavy and professional productions, I have to say, I absolutely love the rawness presented here. It's well above what you'd expect from a demo – the guitars are massive and crunchy, if a little bit fuzzy, the bass is clangy, sometimes more audible than on their first two LPs, and the drums are colossal. Not too far removed from Morbid Saint's “Destruction System” in terms of demo-tier heaviness.
The lineup is a little different from future offerings – Vinny Daze has not yet filled in for drums. John Salerno's transient stay shows drumming that while less volatile, less technically inclined and less blast-beat happy than Daze, still picks up the paces, knows how to handle the double bass well, and generously abuses the snare with conviction. Guitarist James Reilly fills in for vocals on the songs “Downwind Death” and “Assault of the Hammer.” But I have to say I'm glad he didn't continue as the band's ongoing vocalist, as I feel Steve Reynold's raspy snarl is a little more fitting than Reilly's more guttural approach. Reilly does however do a great job at casting the unique Demolition Hammer vocal aesthetic, which is the marriage of gruff vocals and subtle melodic control – just listen to the memorable chorus on “Downward Death.”
Derek Sykes has yet to join the guitar ranks, with James Reilly being the sole guitarist at the time of this demo. Because of the lack of additional song/riff-writing contribution, the songs are not as riff dense as what follows. Compared to “Tortured Existence,” the riffage at hand is more blunt, straightforward, traditional, and appears to incorporate more rapid Slayer and Dark Angel styled tremolos spread throughout, especially on the Reynold-fronted “Corpse Content (Happy Death).” Other than that, the good old Demolition Hammer sound is still there – an abundance of tasty thrash riffs, crunchy breakdown parts, expressive yet searing guitar solos, hardcore punk-infused aggression, infectious gang-shouts and unapologetically violent lyrics about destruction and environmental damage. Reynolds even injects some more elaborated bass parts here and there which slightly decorated “Tortured Existence.” “Downward Death” combines grueling mid-paced churning riffage with more up-tempo bits, while “Assault of the Hammer” and “Corpse Content (Happy Death)” are more thoroughly rapid and straight to the jugular; The latter sounding like something that wouldn't be too out of place of early Slayer. “Catacylsm” wouldn't be re-recorded until their first LP, and appears to be almost half a minute longer here. In actuality I enjoy this version a little better, as I feel the thicker and heavier production serves it well.
I feel this is an important demo largely from the fact that it contains unique material that cannot be found anywhere else. Additionally, it showcases that the humble beginnings of one of the most beloved thrash bands were not so humble – but rather just as heavy and brutal as what followed. When you factor in the three non-reprised songs on this demo and the band's first two thrash LPs, this constitutes 14% of their repertoire (21 songs). And while that can be seen as inconsequential, I feel the material is great enough to not pass up, and is definitely worth checking out whether you are a hardened Demolition Hammer fan, a completist, or just a fan of really heavy, death metal and hardcore-tinged thrash.
New York thrashers Demolition Hammer have recorded a very excellent and heavy thrash metal demo. This is definitely one of the hardest and heaviest thrash metal demos I've come across. They're just as heavy and hard as Morbid Saint and Dark Angel. They do not emulate them; they do it their way. They do it extremely well and I am quite pleased. The drumming is super consistent and that makes the demo really good. There's a cornucopia of guitar riffs. Boy, do they sound really good!
The first song is Downwind Death. This is such a destructive sounding song. It starts off with some killer drums and guitar riffing. The vocals come in and it sounds like a combination between some NYC hardcore vocalist and some Hanna Barbera cartoon character. Snagglepuss? Or it was some Top Cat character? Oh I think it sounds like that cat that runs after Pixie and Dixie. I am not too sure, but it sounds really killer and even funny. They weren’t aiming to be funny, but I find it funny. There are gang vocals in the song as well. I am really impressed by the drumming. The rhythm is really awesome. The drum fills in there are put to good use as well. The bass is quite chunky and chugs a long with the other instrumentation and the vocals.
Corpse Content (Happy Death) sounds destructive as well. The rhythms of the drums are outstanding and the bass goes well with it. That drummer really knows how to pound on those drums. Of course, the same kind of vocals found on track one are there. They’re not that funny and he sounds a bit more serious. There are gang vocals on this song too. Overall, this is a really great song.
Assault of the Hammer is the shortest song on the album and it sounds really awesome. It starts off with one guitar alone and then the other guitar comes in. The drums come in and then the bass follows afterwards. It sounds like a pretty standard thrash metal effort, but much heavier and harder. The guitar solo found in the song sounds pretty good, but it is not the highlight of the song. The drumming is the highlight of the song, because they sound so damn destructive.
Cataclysm is the last song on the demo and it is pretty decent. This song would be re-recorded for their first full-length album. It features great bass work and of course the drumming is awesome. The guitar riffing sounds like typical thrash metal guitar stuff, so I won’t get into the guitar that much. The vocals are pretty serious sounding, but the vocals are much better on the full-length album. You hear the vocals during the beginning and then towards the end.
The drumming sounds ultra creative starting at around the 2:30 mark. I have never heard a rhythm like that, which is one gnarly rhythm. You’ll hear what sounds like wind blowing. I’m not sure why it is there. I guess this is the bridge of the song? Yeah forgive me on this, I’m a musician myself and I should know about that stuff. Anyway, at around the 3:22 the bassist plays some high notes. It sounds good and makes the song sound pretty interesting.
I have one word for this demo. Destructive. Destructive in a good way. This is a really great demo. This is a demo that thrash metal maniacs will love. If you’re into thrash metal, as much as me, I’m sure you’ll like it. If you’re not into really heavy and hard sounding thrash metal, this is not for you.
It’s been claimed that Demolition Hammer is one of the heaviest bands in the world. Based off the strength of this demo, it wouldn’t be too far off to say that they are definitely legitimate contenders to the throne of heaviness. This is one hell of a demo, and anyone who doesn’t check it out is missing out.
First of all, I can barely believe this is only a demo. The production is absolutely crystal clear, and is better than many bands albums! Every instrument shines through, and guitar, bass (more on that later), drums, vocals are all easily distinguishable throughout this demo’s four songs. I don’t know how they did it, but kudos to Demolition Hammer for having a professional-sounding demo.
I’d like to praise the bass specifically. It’s completely audible, and the bassist often plays fills that blow the mind. I believe Steve Reynolds handles the bass here, and he should definitely be commended, especially taking into account the fact that the bass on many extreme metal albums is often turned down low in the mix.
There are so many riffs on this album it’s not even funny. I keep losing track, as each riff bashes your head in, while you bang your head furiously. The solos aren’t anything to write home about, but the rhythm guitar tone is neck-snappingly good. The breakdown in “Cataclysm” is a perfect example of the guitar tone’s crunch. These riffs make the songs go by rather quickly (even the six-minute “Cataclysm), and before long, you’ll see that you’ve listened to the whole thing three times in a row!
The vocals aren’t the best thing in the world, but they fit this genre of metal perfectly. There’s also a healthy dose of New York Hardcore influence in the vocals as well, which makes sense given that Demolition Hammer hails from New York. They add to the catchiness of certain songs, such as near the end of “Assault of the Hammer.” However, most of the time, the vocals are simply average, and are the main reason why this demo only gets a 90% instead of a higher score, along with the solos.
While it isn’t perfect, “Skull Fracturing Nightmare” definitely ranks up amongst my favorite demos, almost as good as Voor’s demo. As it is available for free download (search around), you have no reason not to pick this up and thrash like a maniac. Highly recommended for fans of death and thrash metal.
Highlights: Assault of the Hammer, Corpse Content (Happy Death)