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Despair is a band best known for a few of its alumni, who would move on to (arguably) greater things. Original vocalist Robert Kampf, who appears on this album, would become the chief of the now colossal Century Media records, and in fact Despair was the first European act signed to the label. Guitarist Waldemar Sorychta would later become a famed producer and play in some reasonably higher profile bands like the (crappy) Grip Inc. Lastly, Drummer Markus Freiwald has recently become the drummer for Sodom. Alright, so perhaps none of them have quite become legendary, but the success stories are impossible to deny, so it's all the more curious to examine their roots.
They are strong roots, and History of Hate is the sort of intense, technical thrash/speed album I tend to enjoy, with some similarities to Deathrow, Living Death, Vendetta, Destruction and a number of others. Notable effort was spent in composing the 8 tracks here, and each instrument is given a chance to shine. The guitars are choppy and adventurous, splicing together moments of tranquility with surgical, cutting melodies and beefier backing rhythms. I really enjoy the acoustic moments, like the intro "The Enigma" or the early segue in the 8+ minute epic "Constructing the Apocalypse". There was an artful deviousness to Despair, and Kampf's rough, constipated presence seemed the perfect pilot. That said, besides the obvious qualities and care in its craft, there are very few tracks here that really blow you over. Even the versatile, manic exhibitions of "Joy Division" and "Outconditioned" are not quite as knockout as the clinical nuance found on Deception Ignored, The Music of Erich Zahn, or Release from Agony, but they walk a similar path.
It's a good debut effort, and still sounds viable by today's standard, especially the airy guitar tones and the progressive patterns being woven through the thrashing glaze. The bonus track "Never Trust" turns out to be one of the strongest on the album, though it is borne of a more standardized chugging thrash blockade with some stumbling grooves. If History of Hate is lacking in any area, it's just the lack of killer chorus lines and truly destructive riffs that might edge it past a lot of the other second tier German bands at the time. The band would improve with their subsequent output, but Kampf's sole full-length performance was nothing to scoff at. Now, if only the Century Media suits would break this out from time to time, remember what made them so important, and take out all their shitty metalcore bands with next week's waste disposal (but don't recycle them, please).
Another obscure German thrash band to not make it to the top of the scene, staying in the underground far from the mainstream and most conversations in metal circles. Fortunately due to the ever growing internet age of downloading music and whatnot, I've acquired the fairly obscure History of Hate, Despair's 1988 debut. Once again, finding a German thrash metal band that didn't ravage your soul and rip your fucking corpse like Kreator and Destruction, was fairly difficult I'd say. At least in hindsight bias for the most part, Despair were overlooked as playing the brand of thrash metal that wasn't popular anymore; the ever growing death metal trend started to take over and stuck between the normal thrash acts and the lighter more power metal acts inhabiting the other side of Germany's scene, Despair stay in the middle ground. Now to say they were far from the most obscure is absurd, as original vocalist Robert Kampf left the band after this album and went on to own Century Media, placing Despair to be the first European band on the mega-label.
History of Hate is the only album I've heard from Despair, so any other comparisons and the like fall to unknown ears, but here you will find pure Heathen worship, mixed with a lot of Testament and even a fair bit of early Iced Earth. Right from the get go, the first three songs pound it into your head that Despair are fucking technical speed induced thrash. Now, I won't go so far to say they are on the same level as Watchtower or Toxik or even Realm, but they're up there with a guitar tone and riffs akin to Testament and a production straight from Heathen's handbook, Despair are a likely product of the age of more thought out and productive thrash metal. A fair amount of melody strikes the pose of a decent afterthought, not at the forefront nor far from lacking in a melodic nature, the leads and solos are definitely welcome with plenty of shredding parts. Hell, even the album opens up with a two minute instrumental showcasing the finger prowess of the axemen.
History of Hate has a centerpiece, as often a lot of albums do. You have your ordinary utter speed induced tracks like "Freedom Now", "Outconditioned" and "Joy Division", then the varying tracks of lots of tempo changes like "Slaves of Power and the title track... then you have the 8 minute epic center of the album, "Constructing the Apocalypse". Fuck, even the title of the track is epic! Well, it's hard to bring in 'epic' elements into a thrash album, it's not as accessible to acquire the feeling like power metal or even death metal, but I suppose it can be possible. The progressions and riffing certainly does help here, though it's far from the most amazing thing ever; it's still kickass. At times, the riffs remind me of early Iced Earth mixed with early Testament. An odd attraction to the 'atmosphere' or whatever nature of the album you can imagine, the strange synths or keys brought in like the opening to "Slaves of Power", not sure what they were going for with this but it kind of sticks out among the rest of the album. "Slow Death" shows Despair slowing things down a bit with a brooding and menacing creeping intro riff that dominates the song.
Despair's debut, History of Hate, is an efficient and kickass thrash metal album. Plenty of technical riffs, tons of melodic leads and solos and did I mention the fucking riffs!? The bass is powerful and the vocals are far from bad, gang shouted at times and their best Testament impression. The speed on this album kicks my ass every time, so speed freaks welcome! If you can dig Heathen, Testament and early Iced Earth I'd highly recommend Despair's debut as there's very little to complain about.