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Released in 1990 when thrash metal was an already established metal genre and scene, “Tortured Existence” refuses to be a mere summation of the genre up to that point in time. Instead, this is a record that amazingly sets new musical extremes for thrash metal and is probably one of the most brutal thrash debuts ever.
It seems that due to Demolition Hammer becoming active in the thrash scene fairly late, its members while or even before developing Demolition Hammer's sound had the opportunity to experience the genre in its different shades from its birth to its gradual peaking. As a result, it would appear that Demolition Hammer's members, with reference to their knowledge of the genre, created a focused and uncompromisingly intense brand of thrash metal by filtering out of their songwriting process any irrelevant external musical influences that had infiltrated the thrash genre by the late 80s. Moreover, the band certainly benefited from the more advanced production techniques that by the 1990s had been developed by several music professionals, who had gained valuable experience during the preceding 10 years in the production of thrash albums. On Tortured Existence we have the massive sounding production of Scott Burns who had previously produced classic brutalities like Obituary’s “Slowly we Rot” (1989) and Sepultura’s “Beneath the Remains” (1989). The most notable feature of Burns's production is the muddy guitar tone that essentially acts as an overarching layer of sound that complements every other instrument and creates the record's noteworthy dense sonic quality.
Combining Burns's production with Demolition Hammer's refined thrash songwriting results in an unprecedented bludgeoning thrashfest in the form of Tortured Existence. Demolition Hammer’s performance on Tortured Existence, to put it plainly, is a determined pursuit to reach new extremes. There is an insane vocal performance by Reynolds, who spits out lyrics with ferocity and liberally releases suspended growls to usually signify the track’s ensuing and distinctly brutal section. Reynolds’s bass is audible and while it mostly follows what the guitar is playing, it does provide a great low end depth accentuating the guitars’ crushing tone. Reilly and Sykes are highly competent guitarists as they seamlessly execute complex guitar passages, shift through tempos and produce thoughtful solos that remind us that the brutality heard on this record is not mindless but a sophisticated one. The drumming is exceptional and Daze is certainly a quite underrated drummer. He pounds those drums like there is no tomorrow and enriches the other instruments with superb double bass work and well timed drum fills.
Tortured Existence is so savage and tight in its execution that is constantly on the verge of crossing into death metal territory. However, the hardcore punk passages that are scattered throughout the tracks keep the record firmly grounded in thrash metal without ever subtracting from its intensity. The intro of “Infectious Hospital Waste” with its hammering riffage or that section beginning at around 1m 40s on “Mercenary Aggression” which could easily fit on a Carnivore album are just a few of the numerous instances where Demolition Hammer demonstrates its hardcore tendencies on this record. Then there is “Hydrophobia”, which is basically a hardcore punk track that just happens to have some added bulkiness due to the record’s production. This track possesses riffage that is of a hardcore moshing quality underpinned by a frantically played bass, as well as a vocal delivery that attempts to shove as many words as possible in one verse, and gang vocals that powerfully punctuate the lyrics of the chorus. In essence, more or less everything that is characteristic to hardcore punk is present and executed expertly on “Hydrophobia”.
At this point I feel compelled to discuss the phenomenal lyrics of the record which are probably the most interesting and well articulated I have seen by a thrash band so far. Demolition Hammer’s lyrical expression is filled with technical wording which is handled quite skilfully thereby avoiding the risk of the record becoming unnecessarily verbose. This wording is utilised to construct a very precise language which remarkably communicates clearly to the listener what idea is being described in the lyrics. Thus, there is nothing overtly insightful about Demolition Hammer’s lyrics and there are no cryptic verses hiding a profound meaning. Some of the lyrical subject matter has been tackled before such as the bubonic plague (see “Crippling Velocity”) or biological warfare (see “Paracidal Epitaph”) while other is somewhat unique such as biomedical waste endangering public health (see “Infectious Hospital Waste”) and degenerative suicidal psychosis (see “.44 Caliber Brain Surgery” - what a fucking amazing title). However, the presentation and expression of these ideas are what make the band’s lyrics so meaningful. The sterile language of the lyrics is indispensable because like the Demolition Hammer’s hammering riffs it bluntly hammers into our brains vivid images of a grim reality. The underlying message of the record is that we are still primitive beings predisposed towards violent destruction and who have not learned from past suffering that was either within or outside our control. As demonstrated on Tortured Existence, we are still overwhelmed by nightmares that are by-products of a contemporary dysfunctional society and thus, a tortured existence could possibly be a perpetual state.
In sum, Tortured Existence is an exemplary thrash record which introduced the metal audience to a new brand of thrash metal. This record set very solid foundations for the next album on which Demolition Hammer’s thrash formula would be perfected. Tortured Existence is simply highly recommended to anyone seeking for great thrash metal.
Demolition Hammer is perhaps best known for their ballistic 1992 thrash-fest “Epidemic of Violence.” And for a good reason too – it encapsulated everything the genre stood for, and was the true realization of the heavier, more death-metal influenced thrash that sprouted in the late 80's and early 90's. However, two years prior, the New Yorkers have already left an immense crater in the extreme thrash underground with their explosive 1990 debut “Tortured Existence”. While there are fundamental similarities and differences between the two albums, this is a classic in its own right. “Tortured Existence” is an album brimmed with punkish aggression, many crunchy thrash riffs, and is a catchy, structurally and lyrically unconventional, and ultimately fun and enthusiastic thrash deliverance.
Often noted regarding Demolition Hammer's style is the merging of death metal influences in their thrash template. However, I feel “Tortured Existence” is much more hardcore influenced than their more death-metal tinged follow up. I don't know about you, but I feel there is definitely a “New York” sound. Compared to their more melodic, technical and sterile Bay Area brethren, or the darker Teutonic thrash, East Coast thrash is often more raw, bassy, crunchy, and hardcore punk-influenced; though one may feel there is little in common between Demolition Hammer or Anthrax and Overkill. Whenever I listed to “Tortured Existence”, I imagine four jeans-and-high-top clad thrashers tearing it up in some NYC junkyard or construction site with skyscrapers and traffic in the background, on a busy summer day. The unique character and sound present on this album – the binding of thrash, death metal and hardcore elements – I feel is one of the things that makes it so great.
The gritty, heavy as hell, death-metal-esque production, courtesy of Scott Burns, delivers a massive crunch with its warm, bass-heavy guitar tone. Comparable is the production heard on Exhorder's “Slaughter in the Vatican”, also produced by Scott Burns and released the same year. Steve Reynolds' clangy bass guitar is much more audible, heavy and full here than their follow up. He also adds in his own nuances, as heard in “Cataclysm,” and briefly in “Infectious Hospital Waste.” The double-bass/blast-beat junkie and aficionado Vinny Daze (RIP) puts on an amazingly precise drum performance. The drum production is what you'd come to expect from Scott Burns, clicky and triggered, but still pretty heavy, though it could be a little higher in the mix. Vinny never sticks to a single style, pattern or tempo, as he knows exactly when to throw in slower grooves and when to hit you over the head with more meat-and-potatoes thrashing, especially when compared to their follow up album where he shows a more consistently ballistic fest of hyper-rapid snare and kick-drum destruction.
Axemen James Reilly and Derek Sykes deliver ridiculously expressive riff onslaughts that are often vivid and full of colorful character. Their blunt riff-work is highly memorable – they never have to rely on repetition of riffs or simplistic, predictable structures, as they refrain a section or chorus maybe twice per song. The structures often string together multitudes of varying riffs and expressive solos, especially during rather lengthy and extended bridge sections between vocal parts. I'm not saying this is necessarily the more tame of their first two LPs, as it is not tame by any means, but here they let the expression of the riff-work and punkish vocals do the speaking for the most part, rather than relentlessly beat you over the head with a ballistic, tremolo-picked death-thrash maelstrom like they do on their next album. This is best heard on the immensely catchy “Infectious Hospital Waste” and “Gelid Remains”. Something that sets Demolition Hammer apart from other brutal thrash bands at the time is their soloing rhetoric – they showcase more traditional major and minor keys with an airy melodic prose to them, rather than churn out pure chromatic insanity.
Compared to “Epidemic of Violence”, Steve Reynolds' vocals are more or less the same. However, here he shows a slightly more straightforward, punkish snarl; less nasily and less Morbid Saint-influenced. Another Demolition Hammer signature is the gang-shouted vocals, which is more flaunted on this album than the next. Their lyrics are often in large masses, with rapid, Dark Angel-esque vocal delivery and little emphasis on rhyming. The lyrical topics at hand are all highly unconventional and utterly unique to the genre; often fun and rather light-hearted in its uniqueness comparably. Respectively through the album's nine tracks, the lyrics deal with a botched suicide inexplicably curing one's debilitating germophobia, neanderthals and evolution, cryogenic hibernation, the plague, toxic environmental impact of waste, death by rabid canines, biological weaponry, warfare, and global warming. Unique lyrical content that break traditional thrash clichés is something I always welcome, and it comes full force here.
Upon the first few listens, one can't help but feel that the material is so riff-dense that it is sometimes easy to overlook what particular song is what, as they may blend together with their similar sounding nature. When compared to “Epidemic of Violence”, the thrash breaks aren't as sudden or spastic, the riff pallet, although varied and hefty, isn't as numerous. Here you can hear an ambitious and thrash-hungry group, loaded with riffs and ideas, still perfecting their glorious craft. “Infectious Hospital Waste”, “Gelid Remains”, and “Hydrophobia” are by far the most memorable and standout tracks, whereas everything else pummels you in similar fashion. These songs are all great, enthusiastically and arduously crafted, but are sometimes hard to recall, even after several listens. All is forgivable in my book – because at the end of the day they are a thrash band focused on shoving buckets of great riffs down your throat, and are more riff-based than song-based, the way brutal-thrash should be.
I prefer “Epidemic of Violence” to this by a very small margin – the songs on that album are a little more memorable and discernible among one another, as it's easy to get lost in “Tortured Existence's” vast sea of riffs. However, an ambitious volume of riffs is rarely a bad thing if the band in question is pumping out quality, which Demolition Hammer certainly does. For its cross between thrash, hardcore, and death metal with unique lyrics and riff-dense structures, “Tortured Existence” is an album with a mind and unique character and style of it's own, for that I definitely recommend checking it out. Also recommended is their legendary follow up “Epidemic of Violence” as well as their demos, which have unreleased material. Demolition Hammer were one of the last great thrash bands in the early 1990's, and are an untouchable treasure within the underground metal community.
Metal has two taxonomies: the sort with ballads, and the sort without. Demolition Hammer is the second sort. There's not a lot of music here to show your girlfriend, although if the monthly timing's right she might relate to "Infectious Hospital Waste."
Tortured Existence is the first of Demolition Hammer's three albums. The third sounds like Pantera/Prong mixed with the shitty sixth Ministry album. The second is a thrash metal coat of many colours, influenced by Slayer, Sepultura, Dark Angel, and others. The first album, however, has tunnel vision for a single style, New York brand thrash. Demolition Hammer don't do anything original, but they sound inspired and energetic.
The riffs are aggressive and unrelenting, similar to Stormtroopers of Death and Nuclear Assault and various other bands from The City That Never Sleeps (Because You're Playing Metal Too Loud). The production has an odd character. The guitars are loud and guttural, with the mids EQ'd away, giving them a crushing but not very heavy aesthetic - listen, and judge for yourself. Tortured Existence feels like being strangled by a warm, soft paw.
The songs all sound similar, but to the attuned ear there's variation. "44 Calibre Brain Surgery" is the wildest assault, "Crippling Velocity" is the fastest, and "Infectious Hospital Waste" is the catchiest, with most of the other songs walking the territory in between. The songs stick to a formula of punishing riffs interspersed with lead breaks interspersed with barked vocals interspersed with gang shouts. And then, just as this album's one trick is getting dull, it all ends.
Derek Sykes and James Reilly are a tight rhythm team. The deceased Vinny Daze is an able drummer, although unfortunately he suffers from Dead Rockstar Syndrome, where talented, above-averaged musicians like Cliff Burton and Randy Rhoads get hagiographed into musical geniuses. He's a solid player, and I think that's all you can expect. Steve Reynolds barks out lyrics about social, political, and medical aberrations with a voice harsh enough to strip paint.
Tortured Existence was released in a year starting with "199-", so the timing could have been better for this band. Rather than riding the upward surge of thrash, they had their halcyon days right when the genre was shutting down. They were consigned to cult band status when they had the talent and potential to be much more. They soldiered it out for two more albums (the last one being a horrible attempt at ripping off Pantera), then broke up. There was a cash-cow anthology release from Century Media in 2008 (publically disowned by Derek Sykes), and that's it for these guys.
For now, though, the Demolition Hammer crashes down. It's a solid release that deserves its cult status. You could never call it a game changer, but some games aren't meant to be changed.
Originally written for Empty World
Despite arriving far too late on the scene to really have that much effect in the grand scheme of thrash, Demolition Hammer's debut album is nonetheless a thoroughly enjoyable rollercoaster ride of intense riffs and addictive rhythms that deserves a place in anyone's collection. This record is perhaps one of the best examples of straight forward, no frills, neck snapping thrash metal I can think of. It doesn't make any effort to push the boundaries of the genre, but why fix what isn't broken?
"Tortured Existence" is unusual in that, due to when it was released and who produced it (Scott Burns, but you already knew that within the first 5 seconds of the first track, right?), the album has the production quality of the most brutal death metal albums from around the same year or so. Think along the lines of "Considered Dead" or perhaps "Effigy of the Forgotten" and you're on the right track. This level of brutality, especially the skull crushing bass heavy Morrissound vibe, usually doesn't go hand in hand with thrash metal. However it works perfectly to compliment the infectiously catchy riffing and provide a headbang inducing listening experience. The first song, ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery" is an instant classic and never fails to prompt a good banging of the head whenever I hear it. The rest of the songs mostly follow the template that the opening track establishes, with some variations like "Gelid Remains" focusing on crushing mid paced grooves and "Hydrophobia" being probably the catchiest and most melodic song on the album. In short, yes it does all sound basically the same...but that's the point. This music has no lofty pretensions about trying to be different, it just does an exemplary job with an established formula.
Steve Reynolds' vocals are absolutely vicious, arguably some of the best in this style, lending plenty of vitriol to the lyrics, which are quite well written and cover themes, from that old thrash favourite of environmental concerns ("Infectious Hospital Waste") to the more death metal subject of ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery", a cleverly penned story about a suicidal germaphobe. The guitars themselves have that heavily processed, old school death metal tone with plenty of bass which makes for some surprisingly good thrash riffs. Underneath the dense guitars a punchy bass tone can be heard, occasionally being given a melodic highlight or a little solo here and there. The drums are punishing, and there's plenty of relentless double bass work that helps propel the grooves forward nicely. All of this is topped off with a hilariously over the top cover art full of the rich colour and detail typical of many album covers from this time. While it doesn't necessarily break any ground aside from being an early example of what gets called "death thrash", this album is great fun to listen to, infectious and brutal as hell. What more do you want?
The term "embryonic death metal" often gets thrown around when dealing with bands like Slayer, Kreator and the New York based Demolition Hammer, a band that exhibits several similarities with the aforementioned bands while coming about a bit later. This label fits on many levels as the sound it denotes definitely leans towards death metal, be it the occult steeped mayhem that was already under way via Possessed and Morbid Angel, or the heavier and gorier variety embodied by the likes of Cannibal Corpse. But in the case of Demolition Hammer, it ties a bit more closely in the case of the blood and guts side of the equation, as a quick perusal of the song titles adorning "Tortured Existence" definitely speak to a more graphic approach than the mode dealt with by Chuck Schuldiner on Death's first couple of offerings, though it's not quite as exaggerated as what would roll out a year after this album came out in "Eaten Back To Life".
The appeal of this album was not really felt during its respective time period due to continual genre saturation, as well as the fact that the somewhat German character of the extreme approach on here was more welcome on the other side of the Atlantic, as exemplified in the equally limited success of the similarly styled Morbid Saint. Granted, Demolition Hammer take more after Kreator and Destruction than they do Sodom (particularly Destruction when considering how heavily similar Steve Reynolds sounds to Schmier). Nevertheless, it is understandable that in the years since that this album has enjoyed a bit more attention as it exudes a sense of latent modernity, mostly because of the punchy, percussive guitar tone that points to the stomping thuds of "Beneath The Remains", "Slaughter At The Vatican" and, ironically enough, "Cowboys From Hell". The impact of Scott Burns on Demolition Hammer's sound was, if nothing else, equally as consequential as it was on later releases out of Cannibal Corpse and Deicide in pushing that machine gun sounding guitar tone that since came to exemplify extreme thrash and death metal in the early 90s.
But getting down to the mechanics of the songwriting here reveals a slight conundrum in Demolition Hammer's approach here. While the imagery and production quality of this album definitely hint at a heavily death metal direction, the songwriting is largely stuck in Bay Area orthodoxy, and the mechanics of the riffs tend to remind a bit more of vintage Metallica and Exodus with the occasional dissonant harmony as a nod to Slayer (see "Crippling Velocity"). There are the usual sets of galloping chug riffs that were later exaggerated into oblivion by Iced Earth, the solos definitely hint at that flashy noodling character common to Mustaine and Hammett respectively, and the overall feel of things comes off more as a precision mechanized assault rather than the frenzied blitzkrieg of the Teutonic Trio. Nevertheless, "Infectious Hospital Waste" and "Gelic Remains" cut at the jugular in terms of raw speed and aggression, and even the mid 80s Bay Area throwback bonus track "Cataclysm" (from their 1988 demo, which sounds a lot closer to something off of Slayer's "Show No Mercy" with a slight dash of early Exodus) takes no prisoners and the speed and aggression department.
It's tempting to want to shower this album with endless accolades as being the exemplary album of the 80s thrash scene, as it is arguably the most aggressive thing to come out of New York's thrash scene up till 1990 and does hint at the ongoing evolution of the style in the 90s at the same time. However, anyone who has sampled efforts out of Kreator, Exhorder and Sepultura during this time period will find this one wanting a tiny bit in terms of overall execution, thought that by no means diminishes the enjoyment factor here. This is a solid slab of vile, bloodied riff thrashing goodness that definitely measures up to the amount of attention its received out of the present generation. It might be a pipe dream, but one can't help but hope against hope that the continuing thrash revival might possess Reynolds and company to give it another go the way a number of late 80s flashes in the thrash pan did in the past couple years. But either way, they've more than earned their right to enjoy iconic status within the metal pantheon.
I first heard Demolition Hammer whilst looking through YouTube at various thrash metal videos and I was delighted with my findings. At that point, my knowledge of thrash metal extended to the "ultra-obscure" Big 4 along with a few other bands I had heard snippets of during my many nights of searching for the heaviest music I could possibly find. Death metal was an idea that scared the shit out of me, though if I'm completely honest, until I heard Demolition Hammer. Their masterful fusing of thrash metal and death metal instantly made my ears bleed with delight. I was completely hooked and began my descent into the dark recesses of the genre known as death metal. Enough of my pointless introductions though, as this is about "Tortured Existence", which I personally hold up as one of the best, if not the best, albums I have ever heard. I hold it in the same regard as "Cause of Death", "Spiritual Healing", and "To the Gory End". So let's begin this poorly written review, shall we?
The album rockets off with the blazing ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery" which warns you of what kind of ride you're in for throughout this record. It's fast, catchy, and has some pretty disturbing lyrics, which is always a plus. The song "Neanderthal" comes next and probably has some of the most menacing and creative lyrics I have ever laid eyes on along with an absolutely crushing mid-paced groove that becomes a welcome trend on this album. Track 3 is "Gelid Remains" and is probably the best song on "Tortured Existence", even though it starts off with a riff quite similar to "Master of Puppets". After the intro is through though, prepare to be crushed by another incredible mid-paced riff section which carries on throughout most of the song. The rest of the album rumbles on in a similar way to the first three tracks with tons of tempo changes, gang shouts, and, of course, the awesomely disgusting lyrics, such as:
"Mass killing of civilians
Virulent vapours immolate
No cure, habitat corrodes
Deadly Pestilence escalates
Your Immune system
That, in my opinion, is how a metal lyric should be written. So after listening through this album time and time again, trying to find a slip-up that just wasn't there, I had to give "Tortured Existence" the full 10/10. Overall, I personally think the crushing combination of speed and mid-paced annihilation on "Tortured Existence" makes it one of my top ten albums of all time.
Now, this is the portion of the program where I go on a tangent about the so-called classics of thrash such as "Reign in Blood", "Spectrum of Death", and "Darkness Descends". These albums are extremely enjoyable and I consider them some of my favourites, but I have noticed quite a trend among those albums. They are all recorded as fast and aggressive as humanly possible and that somehow is what makes them classics. I love the speed and aggression as much as the next guy, but the fact that every blazing fast album that comes onto the market is considered phenomenal makes no sense. If it's blind speed you're after, give grindcore a try. Tortured Existence has the speed necessary for it to be labelled thrash metal, but it also has the well-written riffs in it to become a catchy and memorable release. I just don't understand why albums with a higher bpm rate get a higher rating than an album with variety and memorability. Also, if the music is too "dumb" for you, you should attend a symphony or something that you believe is on par with your incredible intelligence.
Notable Tracks: .44 Caliber Brain Surgery, Neanderthal, Gelid Remains, Infectious Hospital Waste, and Paracidal Epitaph.
Bands like Exodus and Slayer wish they had the intensity that Demolition Hammer had on this record. This band might not have been nearly as big as the aforementioned bands, but they didn't lack any of the catchiness or violent energy to be at the top of the thrash scene; they just showed up too late. Around the time "Tortured Existence" hit the metal underground, a lot of thrash bands were already fading out or completely changing their sounds to appeal to a wider mainstream audience (hopping on the groove metal train or even going nu-metal), but not Demolition Hammer. This group could have hopped on the death metal bandwagon of the early '90s, but instead released some of the most savage thrash ever, right up there with bands like Kreator, Morbid Saint, Dark Angel and Sadus.
Listening to these 9 tracks will almost guarantee a headbanging marathon. From the insane opener ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery" to the closing monster "Cataclysm," there will be several moments throughout that will make you want to awaken your inner neanderthal and fuck everything in sight up. ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery" and "Crippling Velocity" are definitely the two most violent songs on "Tortured Existence," as they effortlessly blend ferocious thrash riffage that is beyond fast with heavy, crushing passages for maximum chaos to ensue. In addition to being speed freaks, the band also provides plenty of music that simply destroys. "Neanderthal" and "Gelid Remains" feature stomping riffs that could be rated on the richter scale. The guitarists for this album also like to duel each other when it comes to the solos. Every song has plenty of back and forth solos that range from shredders to complete whammyfests, and they add just a little more awesome to each track.
In addition to being varied with their guitar aesthetics, Demolition Hammer is much more than just a brutal thrash act, because their music is entirely memorable. "Infectious Hospital Waste" just might be one of the catchiest thrash songs ever recorded, and the breakdown of the song sends chills down my spine every single time. There are terrific gang (riot) vocals throughout this album, and the listener can't help but shout along with them because they're that damn catchy. Vinny Daze's stellar performance behind the kit also propelled this record's music to another plateau, as the drumming pushed the riffage and tempo far and beyond at points. In addition to providing some decimating vocals, Steve Reynolds also brings some low-end heaviness with his bass playing. The bass tone is thick and monstrous, making its presence felt all the time; "Paracidal Epitaph" and "Cataclysm" both feature some great playing from the brilliant frontman. "Tortured Existence" is definitely one of the most violent thrash albums to ever be released and is a record that I can always come back to and enjoy time and time again. There aren't many thrash albums that I prefer to this one and very few top it, and surprisingly the band would top it with their next skull-fracturing release.
".44 Caliber Brain Surgery"
"Infectious Hospital Waste"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
Demolition Hammer is a prime example of a thrash band whose posthumous legacy is as strong or stronger than the prosperity they saw during their actual existence. The New Yorkers were a fairly heavily gigging band on the East Coast in the early 90s, and scored a deal with the then-young Century Media imprint, but failed to reap the massive returns that others had already expended years prior. For you see, although there were still enormously successful albums of this genre arriving in 1990 and 1991, most fans had already started to move on. They already had their Rust in Peace, South of Heaven or ...And Justice for All, etc and too few were interested in expanding their thrash collections beyond just the popular media.
Not that Tortured Existence would have struck a silver vein if it dropped a few years earlier, because this is not the strongest album of the New Yorkers' catalog, nor an exemplary release by any means. It's taut, brutal thrash with an aggressive character not unlike the late 80s Zetro period of Californians Exodus, with an underpinning of surgical muted precision that seems like a half-precursor to the field of early technical death. The guitar tone here is highly processed, with a lot of punch that might appeal to fans of Sepultura's Arise, or Exhorder's Slaughter in the Vatican (both albums i care little for); with leads constantly racing off the concrete rhythm riffs, most of which are focused heavily on mosh appeal and biting caveman crunch than catchy notation or enduring composition. The vocals have a constipated, hostile edge to them which is also redolent of Zetro, yet not entirely alike, and these are joined by a lot of standard gang shouts that really help to place this album in one of the most angry and dirty urban environments in the country.
Sadly, song titles like ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery" or "Neanderthal" are more memorable than the actual music. I can recall thinking of the band's live spectacle as loud and appropriate to their lyrical aim, with lots of pits forming due to the guitar tone alone, and this obvious created a nice crossover for the hardcore fans of the day, who appreciated the muscular aggression. But this simply doesn't translate into memorable tracks on Tortured Existence. There's not a chorus on the entire album which stands to memory, and while they lay the bricks thick in the mix, never shy on shifting tempos for some variation, every single guitar line with the exception of the solos feels like a near-miss of something much greater. Tunes like "Mercenary Aggression", "Paracidal Epitaph" and "Neanderthal" are spring-loaded with competent and comprehensive, fist-balling belligerence, but nothing truly weighted or 'heavy' that I can recall more than 10 minutes after.
Essentially, Tortured Existence is a solid soundtrack for making punching bags out of some side of beef in a warehouse, but it's a disturbingly average effort with none of the songwriting flair or drama that catapulted bands like Metallica and Megadeth into the spotlight, there to forever hold reign on a court of half-assed impersonators. The components all seemed to fall into place here, from a reasonably well written assortment of lyrics to a tight grasp of musicianship, to a good level of visibility among the remnant thrash fan base who weren't already jumping ship for grunge and funk rock, but it's so short of leaving any impact that it probably wouldn't qualify for the height meter on most of the 'grown up' rides at the amusement park. It's a product of its day and age that doesn't feel any more impressive decades into the future, but to their credit, the Demolition Hammer would strike a lot harder with the follow-up.
Demolition Hammer came of out nowhere and released “Tortured Existence”. This album displays brutal thrash metal if there is such a thing.
This album is pretty much a thrash metal album with death metal production. And it being produced at Morrisound is probably why it has this sound. The guitars are ridiculously heavy. The bass is loud the entire album. The drums on the other hand, they have some problems. You know how a lot of bands have a problem with bass drums that are too quiet? Well you don’t have to worry about that on here. Well that seems good right? Wrong, because while the bass drum is really loud, the snare just gets lost behind the wall of heavy guitars and the triggered bass drum. So during the thrash parts, the snare is pretty much not there. For me, the snare is the most important drum so when that gets lost in the mix, it takes away a lot from the listening experience.
Although the snare is kind of quiet, the drums still get the job done plus more. Vinny Daze is just amazing. His double bass is really fast, his fills are complex, and his overall stamina is just amazing. The riffs on here aren’t overly technical. Just fast, brutal riffs throughout the entire album. “Paracidal Epitaph” has probably the heaviest riff every on it as well which adds a huge plus to this album. The bass is loud and has a few standouts in the album like in “Infectious Hospital Waste”. The vocals are perfect for this album. Pretty good thrash style vocals with some awesome screams every now and then.
Another thing I have a problem with is the really long bridges that are mostly unnecessary. Like the end of “Infectious Hospital Waste”, it adds another minute to the song that the song could easily do without. They seem to do this in many of the other songs on here. One other thing is, there seems to be a few fillers. “Crippling Velocity” and “Mercenary Aggression” seem to just drag along for me and aren’t anything special. But that’s just my opinion.
If you want brutal, fast, and heavy thrash metal, I would buy this.
Best tracks – “Infectious Hospital Waste”, “44 Caliber Brain Surgery”, and “Paracidal Epitaph”
When one discusses the late era of thrash, it almost seems as if the later a band debuted the less likely of a chance they'd ever get the recognition they deserve. I went on this same little rant of mine during my review for Exhorder's albums, and for some reason I can't help but compare these two bands. I do so primarily due to their similiar circumstances, both bands had released a few demos prior to signing with respectable labels, Exhorder going with Roadrunner (which ended up being a mistake) and Demolition Hammer going with Century Media.
These two bands also found themselves at the end of an era, sort of like the final evolution in a species just before a major extinction. In the case of Exhorder, their debut album ended up being their best, with what followed being an alternative end of post-thrash metal. That in itself ended up being less enjoyable than the debut but far more entertaining than most of their peers. Demolition Hammer, however, only got better with time though eventually they collapsed beneath their own weight after a particularly misguided third release.
On "Tortured Existence," however we hear a band with loads of aggression and determination to stand out from the crowd. This is accomplished by emphasizing the riffs, which is what thrash should really be but was slowly losing this by the early 90's. As some have mentioned, it does exhibit instances of Bay Area influence such as a few gang shouts here and there, but unlike some albums from that scene its missing the hooks to really make the bulk of these songs memorable.
Naturally a few highlights do occur, ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery" being one as one of most aggressive opening songs on a thrash album for that year. This would be followed up by "Mercenary Aggression" and "Cripping Velocity," even if the latter track does sound a tad different in terms of production, causing it to lose some of its potential edge. However if one searched for a true highlight here, if they could only take one song from this, it would have to be "Gelid Remains." This song is a fantastic example of pure blitzkrieg thrash married to the concept of groove, without overt stupidity of the groove metal scene. This song definitely challenges Exhorder's own attempts at merging the two styles, and I'd say even challenges some of the songs off the Solstice self-titled that exhibit a similiar style. Being this sort of release, Steve Reynolds is a venomous frontman, definitely fitting the "death/thrash" mold but again comparing them to Exhorder, he isn't quite as memorable nor as entertaining to behold as Kyle Thomas.
While I can say I enjoyed this particular release, I can't really say I'm in love with it. The band ended up doing quite a bit better on "Epidemic of Violence," which is really their calling card in the first place. Among the thrash albums of 1990, it doesn't really rank that high since "Slaughter in the Vatican" was similiar in style but arguably more memorable. Naturally it placed more emphasis on riffs and aggression than progression like MegaDeth's release of this year and didn't flirt around with as much mid-tempo experimentation like Slayer did. That said, it will definitely appease fans of the more brutal side of the thrash genre although I'd personally advise tracking down their sophomore effort over this one anyday.
This isn’t an album that’s going to wow you with any sort of technical flare or fancy high flying guitar solos, but then it’s not an album that really needs to in the first place. What this album does deliver though is a downright brutish thrash assault that smashes skulls and wipes out unsuspecting victims caught in its path.
The guitar tone of this album is quite heavy, and it fits the overall feel quite well. They don’t waste anytime with the devastating riffs either beginning with the best song on the album .44 Caliber Brain Surgery. Again the guitarists don’t play any amazing solos, but they deliver some downright heavy and crushing riffs one after another.
The vocals on this album are also done very competently as well. Steve Reynolds (who also does bass) screams with extreme hatred and passion throughout the entire album, and sounds like a twisted madman. One thing I will say is that he is not quite at the level that he is on Epidemic of Violence where his vocals really shine, but he does get the job done here. The typical thrash group shouts can be found on nearly every track of the album, and are done quite well as well no complaints from that area whatsoever. From a lyrical standpoint the album is quite brutal as well, but it’s quite refreshing because they never resort to using immature or childish lines. The songs all have very intelligent and sometimes even scientific word choices. Clearly showing the members of the band researched their topics before writing a song.
Now onto the drums brought to you by Vinnie Daze. This is the one instrument that does in fact stand out. Vinnie plays with savagery and ferocity throughout the entire album. There’s nothing that is extremely technical about the drumming, but the man can slam on the drums so fast that it sounds like a machine gun chopping next to your ear.
Again this is nothing more than brutal and brutish thrash metal at its best. If you’re looking for something technical or fancy look else where, but if you’re looking to break your neck doing some serious headbanging then this is right up you’re alley!
Standout Tracks: .44 Caliber Brain Surgery, Gelid Remains, Crippling Velocity, and Infectious Hospital Waste.
“Tortured Existence” is Demolition Hammer’s late-coming, monotonous debut. There are two tracks on here that are superb: “.44 Caliber Brain Surgery” and “Infectious Hospital Waste.” They are the couple that everyone remembers, but half the remainder is headache-inducing boredom.
The unusually deep, murky and bass-heavy guitar tone is annoying, as the songs vapidly flow through a series of uninspired, prototypical groove metal riffs. Many songs like “Gelid Remains” contain highly aggressive and catchy refrains and gang-shouts, but the fundamental flaw is in the songwriting.
Demolition Hammer have the habit of going through the verse and chorus once, entering a 3 minute bridge, then returning to the verse and chorus one last time. These bridges are overlong chains of riffs linked together. These guys are no riff masters, so why not focus on a few cream-of-the-crop licks per song?
The best number here is the opener, which tells the tale of a paranoid germaphobe who attempts suicide via shotgun, but winds up surviving. Coincidentally, the part of his brain he obliterated was the section responsible for his mental illness. Now, this is perhaps far-fetched but is absolute genius, with great music to compliment. If the rest of the CD were at this level then things would be much more interesting.
“Infectious Hospital Waste” nearly surpasses the aforementioned masterpiece, but no cigar. “Crippling Velocity” is ruined because the production is cheaper and clearly different than the rest of the album; I think they just stuck an old demo recording of it onto the finished product.
Yes, the vocal performance is passionate and death metal-esque. The instruments, particularly the drums, are rather technical compared to a lot of thrash, but over-compression makes even the percussion insipid to hear. The production is very bland, and mostly lifeless. There is no raw energy whatsoever; it just doesn’t thrash.
This effort is a disappointment if you are expecting a thrash classic.
Anyone who thought thrash died in the 80's will be quickly silenced with this album. I always thought a lot of the second tier thrash bands like Sacrifice and Kreator really took the brutality of seminal thrash and raised the bar, especially in terms aggression. Now we have Demolition Hammer, who came a bit later yet, and deliver an intimidating onslaught of nasty riffage. That's right, every fucking riff on this album hates you and wants you to die.
What really gives this album an added edge is drummer Vinny Daze, who delivers an ominous assault of double bass that perfectly highlights the grinding guitars, and Steve Reynolds' acidic vocals. Whereas most bands might have the bass give a little added push to the guitars, Vinny's bass drum massacre really pushes the overall fury of the riffs down your throat, especially in the more midpaced parts. Steve's vocals are another source of brutality, coming across as a much more shreiky Mille, and a little more out of control.
Stylistically, Demolition Hammer is certainly an East Coast band. I notice a few Possessed riffs coming up here and there, and especially in the frantic breaks, but that's the most part of any Bay Area sound I hear. There's also quite a bit of Sepultura in the down picked riffs, and Teutonic thrash in the vicious maelstrom of riffs, but Demolition Hammer really has their own sound. This is mostly characterized by the downright brutal rhythm section, which creates a suffocating mass of sound, more akin to maybe Suffocation (no pun intended), but with much more enjoyable riffage.
I don't know if it's just a problem with my copy of this album, but the sound quality of "Crippling Velocity" just drops when it comes on, sounding like a demo or something. The only real problems I have with this album are the Scott Burns production and the fact that Epidemic of Violence blows this to shit. The Scott Burns sound is really evident on here, especially the really compressed, bass heavy sound.
The other problem is that Tortured Existence's material doesn't stand out as much as on their follow up album. I don't know if it's the production, but on here the songs seem to cruise straight along without highlighting any particular section. This is certainly essential thrash, but Epidemic of Violence is leaps and bounds more badass.
Demolition Hammer are a band who teeter on the edge of thrash and death metal. The riffs are thrash riffs, the drums are closer to the death metal sound, and there's always this unexplainable, brutally heavy sound to their music that puts them real close to death metal. A lot of this is probably due to producer Scott Burns, who had all ready worked with a plethora of death metal bands and was considered one of the best in the business. The overall sound of the album has that early death metal feel to it, the drums are too loud in the mix, and the guitars sound like chainsaws. It makes for a brutally heavy album no doubt, but in my opinion their sound would be improved upon with their next release.
These guys are all good musicians, the riffs are tight and precise, though the music is pretty straight forward, nothing flashy. The solos aren't bad, but sometimes they feel unnecessary, and for the most part are of the Kerry King school of wanking. The drums are great, and are a big part of why the album sounds so god damn heavy. Vocalist Steve Reynolds is excellent for this type of music. He has a Kreator style bark/shout that is just clear enough to be comprehensible, but still harsh and aggressive sounding.
The album does feel a little "samey" as is the case with most albums that stay over 200BPM. Picking out highlights would be hard, but certainly the opener ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery" is great, with it's grinding verses and catchy chorus. One thing worth mentioning is that this album has a lot of gang vocals, and they work surprisingly well, especially on this song. "Gelid Remains" has to be the best song on the album, it sounds almost like something from "Reign in Blood" with that bludgenoning mid-paced verse riff. Some of the best headbanging material ever. "Parasital Epitaph" is another great headbanger, lots of tempo changes and riffs and just a little more experimental than the other songs. Album closer "Cataclysm" is insanely fast and heavy, and probably the closest to pure death metal. Grinding chainsaw riffs and snarling vocals, a nice slow down in the middle with a crushing riff.
Sure to please fans of extreme thrash, and fans of old school death metal. One of the most aggressive sounding albums you'll ever hear. Though they would get even better on their next album.
This is the first of Demolition Hammer's two albums (I don't consider Time Bomb to be canon by any means) and is definitely the heavier of the two. The band is often classified as death-thrash but to be honest I can't see much death metal influence here. There are no death grunts and no blast beats. If you want to see where this band is coming from, check out Motorhead. This album is replete with the three-chord punk structures and riff-driven songs that the British speed pioneers are known for, but with FAR more brutality and heaviness.
Like many classic thrash albums (I'm thinking of And Justice for All... and Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?), Tortured Existence has unusual production. The guitars on this album sound so huge they drown out all of the other instruments. You have the vocals and bass slotted in somewhere and the drums are just a tiny clicking sound far back in the mix. You might think this would be a serious flaw but the suffocating guitar tone actually gives the album a lot of flavor and personality. It was kind of a letdown to hear the more balanced production of Epidemic of Violence.
This album just doesn't let you fucking breathe. The riffing and soloing is relentless, and drummer Vinnie Daze smashes his way through the songs like an anabolic injected speed machine. Close examination will reveal the songs to be of conventional thrash structure (verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/solos/verse/chorus) but everything is so over the top that it's difficult to get a grip on anything. One of the album's trademarks is the frequent use of shouted backing vocals, giving the album a hardcore punk feel. The riot vocals are a bit over-used (especially on "Mercenary Aggression", where it seems every second sentence is shouted), but they are nevertheless cool, and, once again, something I missed on their second album.
Obvious standouts are ".44 Caliber Brain Surgery" (the heaviest song on here) and "Gelid Remains" (which features the same style of downpicked rhythm riffing that Metallica used on "Master of Puppets"). "Crippling Velocity" cruises along at an easy 218bpm into a breakdown that must have caused some epic mosh pits back in the day. My personal favorite is "Infectious Hospital Waste", which has some really well-developed riff ideas and ultimately proves to be the album's strongest cut. It was turned into a music video, search for it on Youtube.
Admittedly there's not a whole grab-bag of variety on display. The band mostly sticks to one style, although this doesn't hurt the album as much as it does Slayer's Reign in Blood simply because they are so damned good at writing riffs. There are endless catchy moments on this CD, you can fast forward to any position on the album at random and your ears will be pummeled by sheer headbanging awesomeness. If this album has a weakness, it is that the songs are rather indistinguishable and it is difficult to pick out any differences between one track and the next. But hey, that's thrash for you.
This band's musicians simply kick ass. Guitarists Sykes and Reilly shred up a storm, and drummer Vinnie Daze is a master of his craft (unlike many metal drummers, he varies his style and technique rather than simply blasting away on those bass pedals all the time). Vocalist Reynolds has a sick, filthy voice that sounds like he's singing with the worst case of bronchitis known to man, and this also works well with the music.
Bottom line? If you like thrash, you NEED this album. It may be a somewhat repetitive and unvaried ride, but still one with a lot to recommend it. So as to not miss even the smallest morsel of thrashtastic joy, I suggest you turn it up as loud as you can. At the maximum volume setting, this album will almost bang your head for you. Plus you can hear the drums, which helps.
"MERCENARY AGGRESSION! UGH!"
Demolition Hammer pretty much came onto the scene from out of nowhere. Well, actually they came out of New york, but the fact remains that very little was known about this band when Century Media released this exquisite onslaught of thrashtastic metal madness. When I first saw this album, I remember being totally drawn in by the disturbing artwork and assumed that this must be some run of the mill wanna be death metal band. Boy, was I wrong. These guys were pure, sonicly driven, pulse pounding, in your face thrash metal in the purest of forms. Ultra talented musicians, (especially Vinny Daze's drumming), and lyrics that often sounded like they were penned by a medical student. The ferocity of this album, is incredible, the riffs are endless and the guitar solos are interesting and flavorful. More than just your average thrash band thats for sure.
The only area that this album suffers so very slighty in, is the fact that Scott Burns does a horrible job with the production. I suppose we should in fact take into account that this album was released in 1991.
The one thing about this band is the uniqueness of their sound. They don't sound like fellow eastcoasters Overkill, or Anthrax, nor do they resemble anyone from the Bay Area. I guess you'll just have to track this rare gem down and find out for yourselves, exactly what I mean.
Century Media should definately do the metal world a favor and re-issue this long deleted rarity. I'd buy it again, just because!
This is certainly the heavier of the two Demolition Hammer albums, just due to the guitar tone, and the slightly slower, more bludgeoning riffage. This is a more Bay-Area sounding album than their second effort, which threw in influences from everywhere. Standard thrash breaks not all that far removed from a Metallica or an Exodus are the norm here, especially in what is the highlight of the album, "Gelid Remains", which also throws in a solid groove riff courtesy of Sacred Reich, except executed a million times better.
The guitar tone - this album is all about the suffocating guitar tone. Sorta like the first two songs of the next album - or, in more general terms, Dark Angel meets Devastation. Bass-heavy, and in general all too happy to find an average-sized moose and insert it into your brain 211 times per minute. Not 284, but moose are large creatures, ya know. "Crippling Velocity" is just that - the fastest song on the album, and throwing in some nice solid Slayer-esque riffs. (Raining Blood, is what certainly comes to mind - though different enough to not be a ripoff.)
The vocals are also pretty fucking good. Somehow, Aussies are just cut out for thrash. The barking, the accent - just works fine. [NOTE: apparently this band is not from Australia, as I had originally heard... they're from NY. The vocalist definitely sounds Aussie, though.] Other highlights of the album include "Hydrophobia", which has a great riff after the first verse, and Mercenary "Aggression", which has a textbook middle break. Demolition Hammer didn't really bring anything all that new to the table, but they sound inspired and energetic, and of course really fucking heavy.
Okay, so this album isn't quite as good as the followup... it is still very solid, but what it lacks is a bit of variety - nonetheless, this is still highly enjoyable thrash. If you like riffs (who doesn't!) then you will like this one. It's heavy, it's metal, it's well worth the effort of obtaining.