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“…when you have been down in your grave…alive…”
Hellhammer. The first time I heard the name I just kept saying it aloud to myself. Hellhammer. I kept thinking there has to be some true significance to grasp. Hellhammer. It was a time when a name like this was so primitive, so top-heavy, and so much more menacing sounding than the likes of Raven, Exciter, W.A.S.P., and Running Wild. Hellhammer. Real word or not, I wanted to use this in a sentence in English class so bad. I hadn’t even heard the damn band yet and I was already enamored with them.
I would initially get a dubbed Memorex tape of Apocalyptic Raids from my buddy in school who was feeding me all this stuff. He verified to my relief the band didn’t sound anything like Laaz Rockit or The Rods, and since my Walkman was practically cemented to my body back then, that I’d see for myself soon enough and if anything to be sure to check out “Triumph of Death”. Screw social studies and the Treaty of Ghent, I wanted to hear this friggin’ band. I got about forty seconds of “The Third of the Storms (Evoked Damnation)” in before the teacher got down to his boring business. God, this was like crude oil extracted from Venom’s hide, and the guy’s vocals…Cronos and Tom Araya were as diabolical as they come, but this guy…? It’d be about forty-five minutes before the bell of glory would ring the class’s end.
“…the world will die under the sword of destiny…”
All nostalgia aside, this four-song graven opus wasn’t inspiring rave reviews among zines. Even the smaller, in-the-underground-know ones were calling it something akin to the steam that rises from manhole covers. Truthfully, anyone with an even half-evolved brainstem can hear that the music is written with zero complications and is frightfully simplistic. I didn’t care. AR was its own little world as far as my concerns went. If you hadn’t already heard Venom or Slayer by day one of the ep’s release, the most gutted and acrid vocals were what you were hearing, and if a fantastic production were a living, breathing entity, it would’ve walked over and said “what the hell do you want me to do with this?”
“The Third of the Storms” is actually the first of the four storms featured here, squealing forth with a primal, deep-toned mid-pace and vox that was as gravelly as they was unintelligible. “Massacra” cracks a whip on the velocity, and the memorable chorus with an open-ended riff is the center point.
To prepare for “Triumph of Death” back then was impossible. Discordant guitar notes barely even associated with a rhythm cry and moan like some prehistoric mammal caught in a painful trap, then the real inhumanity starts. With a nocturnal rhythm Sabbath would’ve thought was way too mausoleum-like, Satanic Slaughter a.k.a. Tom Warrior, the mammal’s pained father, unleashes bestial cries of defiance toward anything commercial or loving. Finally an actual beat trudges from the forest of screaming doom as the hollering subsides to actual lyrics that could give master linguists fits, and again the trap is reset and sprung. After 9+ minutes the beast gracelessly dies in a whispering mess, a beloved atrocity for the ages. Is it really a mystery as to why some would dislike this track? And to say the concept for the song as well as its performed extremity is merely a daring endeavor is an understatement if one exists. Let’s face it, “Triumph of Death” is the Evel Knievel of extreme songs even today.
Thudding in with percussion, “Horus/Aggressor” borrows the quicker rate of “Massacra” and surrounds it with the gait of “Third of the Storms”. The chorus’ catchiness enlivens the tune that ends with the fanfare of a guillotine strike.
"...the final chapter is yet unwritten..."
Of course I’d buy the real deal a little later, until then never seeing lovely Sitting Death, the cover painting with the schlong, and always wondering what the hell Tom was grunting about. It's also where I would come eye to eye with the dark, superior glints of Tom’s worded signature, a lyrical rawness that would grow into Stygian prose with Morbid Tales and beyond, and would be the formal catalyst that would urge me to pick up a pencil and do something with it other than throw across the room.
It’s undeniable that Apocalyptic Raids is all of these: basic, pioneering, primordial, catchy, slovenly, bare, haunting, and as cheerless as a dead puppy, and with three of the four tracks not conveyed with the most captivating of songwriting, I believe the ep’s impact would have been much less conquering if “Triumph of Death” had remained mere demo material.
Given a chance to bet on it, I would’ve lost if someone told me this band would incorporate orchestral movements, angelic soprano harmonies, and other avant-garde shadings into their songs in a little over a year. Nevertheless, Apocalyptic Raids sits rightfully on a throne of kings.
As of this writing, the ep is also available on CD with two bonus tracks, “Revelations of Doom” and “Messiah”, both of which can be found on the earlier Death Metal compilation from Noise Records, and even with the pair it still times in under a half hour. The addition of “Crucifixion”, straight from the vaunted Metal Massacre V compilation, would’ve easily found a home, and since we're being charitable, how about some demo crap like, oh I dunno, alert "Sweet Torment"? Or "Reaper"'s grody thunderplod? "Eurynomos" anyone? And how disappointed would grandma be if she couldn't toothlessly croon along to good 'ol "Bloody Pussies"?
Now I ask you, between the Treaty of Ghent and Hellhammer, which do you think has enriched my life more?
...only death is real...