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The word 'Hellhammer' can mean different things to different people. To some, Hellhammer is 'that drummer whose in loads of bands' to others, Hellhammer is an influential Swiss 'thrash' band whose vocalist and bassist went on to form Celtic Frost.
Hellhammer could probably be counted among the ‘first wave of black metal’, along with Bathory and Merciful Fate, but some of this clearly influences doom, (namely the tracks ‘Triumph of Death’ and ‘Buried and Forgotten’.
When this Swiss trio formed in 1982, with a strong Venom influence, but didn’t fall into the trap that Slayer did with Show No Mercy (not that it’s a bad album mind you), due to both Tom G. Warrior’s droning guitar sound, unique vocal style and generally appalling sound quality (due to their Death Fiend and Triumph Of Death demos being recorded in an old bunker). With Satanic Rites however, the band actually appeared to have recorded it in an actual studio as well as getting rid of the clanging, heavy bass that haunted the first two demos. This generally makes this demo an easier experience to listen to, though not actually ‘better'. This said, the production is hardly perfect, sometimes with the sound switching from speaker to speaker for no apparent reason
After a freaky intro, which is actually just the ending of the song ‘Triumph of Death’ played slowed down, opener ‘Messiah’ is a fast paced, destructive opener, as well as a highlight for the whole demo. The demo continues in this fashion for most of the demo, despite thirteen minutes of doom. Lyrically, Hellhammer stick to Venom-esque moments of Satanism, as well as lyrics the early Slayer, Mayhem et al would be proud to write:
“Satanic rites, satanic rites,
I love the screams of children
I love to see ‘em hang
They are so little and helpless
So I’ll do what I want”
Hardly easy listening, Satanic Rites will probably not amuse newcomers to metal, and might put off Dimmu and CoF fans. Not that they're necro enough to get it in the first place though.
All in all Satanic Rites is a headfucking, dusty blackened masterpiece, which has been made much easier to acquire, now that Tom G. Warrior has made peace with Hellhammer (as he once despised Hellhammer as much as the early 80s metal press did), and released the Satanic Rites, Triumph of Death and Death Fiend demos together.
For those of you who are into old school (I mean extreme metal, not porn or hip-hop) and have nothing better to do than reading reviews here on M.A. there is my little contribution to Hellhammer worship. Yes, Hellhammer... the infamous band which came out of nowhere and managed to be heavier than Venom; the band which had been existing barely for two years and which "will never be reformed"; the band which introduced a real morbidity into heavy metal and which "will never be forgotten". It looks like all has been already said here but I'm deranged enough to think this record deserves one more fucking review.
"Come on you pretty girl
I know a silent place... "
Yeah... black leather, spikes, inverted crosses and other rubbish. In 1983, when black metal was considered a bad joke (if it was considered at all), two young metal freaks from the land of Jung's archetypes, Giger's biomechanoids and Meier's extraterrestrials recorded this 46 minutes of socially unacceptable 'music'. The ugly cassette was named Satanic Rites, labelled with (fictional) "Prowlin' Death Records" and guess what? It impressed Noise records enough to offer the band a record deal. Soon the new bass player joined and the unholy EP was released. One year on, however, the band was gone. Why? Hellhammer concept was suddenly considered too simple by the 'musicians' who therefore abandoned it as a dead end. They had not a clue that the name of Hellhammer would later gain a cult status in certain circles and the band's approach would inspire many. I hate to say that Tom 'Warrior' Fischer, the main protagonist who by the way pioneered using 'corpsepaint', eventually lost his judgement when trying to succeed with glam rock(!) but that's another story.
So much for the background, now let's focus on the music. First of all, we are far beyond the realm of good taste in music here... and we should be proud of it. So expect no complex compositions, no guitar solos (well almost) and of course no clear vocals because 'Warrior' preferred to perform his weird lyrics in an entirely different way! He had really developed himself a nice sense to sound either passionate or arrogant/evil (OK, not as evil as Jeff Becerra of Possessed or Chuck Schuldiner of Death). As regards riffs, tell your brain to use only the right hemisphere 'cause there is no point in trying to analyse what exactly is being played... power-chord here, power-chord there and if you dislike this rawness and minimalism even when it IS effective, you can fuck off... or you'd better satisfy your appetite with Mercyful Fate's Melissa LP from the same year. Agreed, the sound quality of Satanic Rites is poor... or should I say raw? But hey! It's a demo and it IS actually listenable so don't cry to your mama you don't hear the bass or something. She wouldn't care anyway.
It consists of twelve tracks: apart from cheap Intro and Outro there are mediocre/uninspired songs (Maniac, Reaper, Crucifixion), the classics which appeared on subsequent releases (Messiah, The Third of the Storms, Triumph of Death, Revelations of Doom) and morbid highlights on this piece of decadent effort (Buried and Forgotten, Eurynomos and Satanic Rites!). All of them all worth listening maybe except of Triumph of Death because the Apocalyptic Raids version is without a doubt better in all aspects (that one has the potential to disgust anyone, anywhere, anytime and for me is the main reason to love the band's rotting legacy). If there was just one song to be pointed out, I would choose the creepy Buried and Forgotten. It's a slower one but rich in moments which are nowhere else to be found... or at least I haven't come across a metal song which would create similar atmosphere. The vocals are simply wonderful. As far as I understand it, the lyrics are about being physically dead yet conscious. YES! Imagine one's soul having departed the body and being capable of only one emotion... FEAR! Fantasy you think? Materialism is a fantasy, you fools!
"Freezin' breeze, last bell is mute
As I run thru night's fog
My feet lurch over the grave
Have 'em buried long ago
Still awake but without life?"
Now have I forgotten to mention anything important? No? Then epilogue: Satanic Rites together with Death Fiend/Triumph of Death demos have been recently reissued as Demon Entrails and it shouldn't be a problem to find a copy. So get yourself one and enjoy listening to such a great example of old school black stinking metal with beer, barbiturate or whatever that makes you happy. Absorb it all, celebrate the decline of western civilization, vandalize christian icons/idols in the nearby graveyard or just play it loud enough to annoy your neighbours. I listened to this stuff right before my suicide attempt... if I were successful, you wouldn't read this, heh. No, I'm NOT joking here. Only death is real. And malevolent non-corporeal beings of lower astral await to feed on your fear... be aware of them.
This album receives high scores for mainy reasons. The main reason is the recording quality. Yes, it is a demo. The great thing about this recording, although it is very poorly done, is that, in the long run, it helped influence an entire generation of music. When one looks in retrospect at this album from 1983, the reader can see the milestone for what it is. Yes, Venom may well have been the first "black" metal band, with Bathory close behind, but that's not really the point being made. This album, seemingly played by amateurs, showed an amazing thing: less can be more. By giving the album a very dark, evil feeling and atmosphere, it didn't matter how well they played, or what chord progressions they used. This album (along with Quorthon) helped pioneer the raw vocals that we all love in black metal.
Once again, looking in retrospect, look at al the bands that have used this formula of raw vocals, poor recording, and evil atmosphere. Classic albums have been made with this formula: Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas; Gorgoroth - Pentagram; Dark Funeral - The Secrets of the Black Arts; the list goes on. Any essential old school black metal album follows this formula, a formula that really wasn't broken or expanded on until the symphonic black metal wave hit.
Evil atmosphere, poor playing, poor sound quality. Usually this would warrant a poor score, but the retrospect and history of metal alone will not allow this album to be taken lightly.
This album is recommended to all fans and historians of metal. If you want to see where black metal came from, I recommend this as a start. Highly recommended to all metal fans.
But here is some of my own anyway... this is just some freaky, freaky shit right here, especially if you consider the fact that this is from 1983!!! Not 1985, 1983... this is probably the stuff that was making Jeff Becerra feel all funny in every part of his body (including his pee pee) when he was first deciding to form Possessed... the stuff that took Venom's first few releases and then added a whole lot of dark, evil, completely nuts ideas to the whole thing. Not even Quorthon was as fucking fucked up as the guys that put this work together.
So, why is this so essential, you may ask? Because, for all intents and purposes, it is a HELLHAMMER FULL LENGTH ALBUM!!! Yes indeed, kids - because Apocalyptic Raids isn't enough - 2 bonus tracks or otherwise. You want something that adds on to the sick, sick charm of that little EP, takes production values of that album and throws them even further down the shitter, and even manages to predate the official release!
Worship at the altar of Hellhammer... this is insanely great stuff. Most of it is the fast Venom worship we all know and love... stuff like the intro Messiah, the Metal Massacre V track Crucifixion, and others. Stuff that's so insanely, horribly BAD that it is very very good. That buzzsaw guitar tone with the most absurd use of the bend bar (see Buried and Forgotten), Tommy G's deranged vocals, etc. This is just fucking death right here... from EurEEEnymos (Prince of Death) to Reaper, to the long title track that gallops along, spreading good cheer in the name of Satan Claus. Ho ho, you fucking ho.
Then, we have a rendition of Triumph of Death, which, while not nearly as good as the one on Apocalyptic Raids (that one is just magical... there is nothing like it, before or since), is still pretty fucking decent. Compared to the abysmal crawl of that one, this version positively blazes along (it's only seven minutes) but fundamentally all the assorted corpse parts are there.
Even the outro is morbid as fuck - probably the most deathy vocals ever employed in metal up to that point. Sure, the whole thing sounds like a pig fucking a blender, but hey, influence!! Abominatrix mentions the whole thing may have been a pitch-shift trick, but oh well. Can't read too much into these things, unless of course you're practically every DM metal band to come along.
So, does this thing fucken rock? HELL YEAH. Does it fucken rock as hard as Apocalyptic Raids? Not quite. But where else are you going to get most of these songs? Seriously. Buy or die.
Having read with considerable interest Thomas Gabriel Fischer's book "Are You Morbid?", describing the events surrounding Celtic Frost, its creation, concept, struggles with personal and business difficulties, run-ins with insane females and eventual demise, I wasn't too surprised that Hellhammer was regarded in retrospect by its creator as a symptom of teenage boredom more than anything else, a result of three clueless Swiss guys who knew nothing about their instruments but wanted to play "more extreme than Venom". On the surface, this slagging of Hellhammer might leave a bad taste in some peoples mouths. After all, this is the band who countless black metal acts flock to for inspiration, who's formula, as much as Tom might like to see it buried and forgotten (excuse the reference), continues to be called upon to this day. Tom G. himself actually hints at a grudging fondness for the Hellhammer days (or perhaps I am merely imagining this?), for despite his harsh criticisms of the pre-frost era. He doesn't hesitate to point out Celtic Frost's continuing inclusion of "Messiah" in later sets, nor does he refrain from describing how the group attempted to rehearse "third of the storms" in 1987, and found that they were, for some reason, totally unable to recapture the original feeling of the song, much to their embarrassment. Of course, the latter anecdote is relegated to the Author's Notes section at the very back of the book, but it is there, plainly enough. Sure, the music is almost mindless in a sense...perhaps in Tom Warrior's eyes a mere stepping stone of a dubious nature to what Celtic Frost would become, but there is something about it that remains powerful and will not be forgotten, at least by some.
The consensus with Hellhammer seems to be that either people love them or laugh at and ridicule them. With that in mind, I'm going to attempt to dissect the music to a certain degree, since I am for some reason interested in the phenomenon of this band. Some might say it's unremarkable, boring even to speculate on such things, let alone listen to the music...but feelings of such extreme reverence and derision must always have a basis, and an understanding of that basis is perhaps integral to truly understanding and enjoying what it is that Hellhammer did, intentionally or not.
Although modern bands certainly do harken back to Hellhammer, all but a few, those that seek to directly mimic, such as the very obvious examples of Warhammer and Bloodhammer, have much broader subtexts to draw on and thus don't really sound much like that early swiss band after all. I refer of course to bands like Darkthrone, who ocasionally compose riffs that have the almost nonsensical claustrophobic patterns that Hellhammer seemed to utilise. Darkthrone however have some more developed metal ideas from which to draw their particular elixir of sound, and thus, even when they are paying homage to Hellhammer, such as in the slower moments of "A blaze in the Northern Sky" and "Panzerfaust", and even on the more recent "Ravishing Grimness", there is a certain modern aesthetic that makes the music somewhat more digestable. Hellhammer seemed, if I can hazard to say this, to almost come out of nowhere, which is part of what makes them so great in my view. Sure, Tom Warrior listened to loads of Motorhead and Venom, and other british bands like Angel Witch at the time, and yes, those are probably the bands, if any, people would be quick to slap on Hellhammer as obvious influences. But I submit that they aren't, really. If Hellhammer had been able to play as well as Motorhead or even Venom, they would not be the original phenomenon that they were, because as Tom would have pointed out, they would have tried to sound like them. The fact was though, that Venom looked like virtuosos when compared to Hellhammer, and that is a scary thought for a lot of people. The fact that three years later a band that was more or less the same individuals (two of them, anyway) had reached the point of musical advancement to create an album like "Into the Pandemonium" is quite a testament to Tom and Martin's ambitions and insane drive to improve. Even Celtic Frost in 1987 were by no means stellar musicians. But they had a vision, a desire to create something new and unique that had never been done before and would raise so many eyebrows, create such a firestorm in the extreme music community that it would really never be the same again. Hellhammer was perhaps more of a quiet revolution, at least in the figurative sense, but it was an equally important one.
This is not, of course, the most legitimate Hellhammer release. it is in truth a CD reproduction, a bootleg I really would have to say, of Hellhammer's second (or third?) demo. I believe this is correct, despite information given that indicates that tracks here are from the "Triumph of Death" demo or even recorded live. I have heard that demo, and I can say with absolute certainty that nothing on "Satanic Rites" is remotely as horribly recorded as was that earliest output of the band, and the sound here is good enough to have been the result of minimal studio work . I believe that "Satanic Rites" was the recording that got them a semi-deal with Noise records to record a four song EP. I wanted to give a really comprehensive description of Hellhammer's sound here since it really is the first widely available recording of the band, and since many people probably don't own this and should, since it's just as good as "Apocalyptic Raids" in its own right. There are ten songs here, not counting intro and outro, which seem to be parts of other tracks played at reduced speeds...something which the band probably did in order to sound heavier, judging by a comment Warrior makes in his book about playing Venom singles at 33 rpm to increase their brutality (how cool is that?). Anyway, two of the songs from the original "Apocalyptic Raids" EP are here, as well as the two tracks featured on the Metal Massacre compilation, the label release debut of Hellhammer. All these are of course earlier versions here; the band does improve on the way these songs sound later, so for the most part these renditions of "Third of the Storms", "Triumph of Death", "Messiah' and "Revelations of Doom" are only of moderate interest. IN particular, the version of "Triumph of Death" seems to be rather lackluster....probably partially do to the completely anguished vocals Tom pulls off on the "Apocalyptic Raids" take of this track. The previous incarnation of this song doesn't have nearly the same amount of feeling or passion and tends to drag a little.
It's really the other six songs that make this recording great. Forgotten jems that could have easily been on "Apocalyptic Raids
. but weren't, for the obvious reason that Hellhammer didn't have the funds or contract to record an album anyway. It's not really for us to imagine what these songs might have sounded like on the EP...since they only exist in these versions, it doesn't really matter and we can just enjoy them for what they are. Hellhammer's music struggles with itself, cycling through repetitive, thrown together sounding riffs, the guitar almost desperately sawing back and forth between chords that simply don't sound like they belong together at all. Often it sounds as if Tom isn't sure quite what chord to play at all, and simply ends up thinly strumming half of it, or forcing an anguished bent note out of his instrument. The drums, in the majority of the songs, clip along at a fast pace, but the rest of the band crawls, so that even the most "rocking" sounding songs come out doomy and hobbling. The complete absurdity of some of these riffs would make most musically minded people cringe. This is perhaps even more evident on the EP in songs like "Massacra", which looks inane on paper and yet manages to sound primal and awesome when played by this particular band. Tom seems to enjoy vocal duties as he always did in the future as well. There's plenty of "Owww!", and "oooh!", and so on...the difference here is that there is a completely over the top echo on his voice, which gives the music a sort of distantt feel that isn't present on "AR". The guitar is much thinner on this particular recording than on the ep, but in a way that makes it clearer..and this is by no means a bad sound...it's just a little lacking in fidelity, and considering the nature of the music, who really cares? There are a couple of glitches that pop up in the sound here and there, which obviously point to the fact that the CD was necessarily mastered from a cassette that is degraded in a couple of places, resulting in the breakup and distortion of sound common in old and often played audio tapes. It's not a chronic problem though, and only surfaces in a couple of tracks, most notably for a second or two in "Messiah".
As for the songs themselves....the original tracks...."Buried and Forgotten" is incredible and definitely the highlight of this recording for me. The song was later stripped of certain elements and given a few others, transforming into Celtic Frost's "Necromantical Screams". The Hellhammer song is a lot less precise and tight, obviously. it's very slow, ponderous, full of those torturous bending notes Tom is so fond of, and some *very* menacing riffs. I think the Frost song should have used a few more of the ideas in this original. The vocals sound ghostly and evil as fuck too, and the fast part near the end is totally unexpected and well....odd..you have to hear it for yourself. "Crucifixion" is a short rocker and should have been on the EP for sure, and the title track is seven minutes of repetitive Hellhammer "psudo-thrash" for want of a better description....almost hypnotic in it's fast tempo but constrained and aching riffs.
Obviously, I like this a hell of a lot....although after much debate with myself I've realized I do prefer the sound on the EP for being more up front and "in your face" as it were..the six exclusive songs here are essential to anyone who knows or wants to know hellhammer. If you are a newcomer to this particular brand of mayhem, do start with the EP, and if you are hungry for more, track down this bootleg and enjoy the further revelations. Of course, not everyone is going to share my enthusiasm for this...and I don't expect too many will be flocking to Hellhammer, since they represented a near antithesis to most peoples ideas of good music..and this applies equally to today's extreme metal public, even those who say they enjoy black metal bands that never hesitate to point out their adoration of Hellhammer.