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Death Metal pt 1 of 4 (the rating is for the complete compilation)
With part one of the four-part review of Noise’s seminal Death Metal compilation, we first go with the only band that deserves to be anywhere near this album. In ’83-’84, Hellhammer was death metal. 21 years later it’s considered a prototype of the style, the vocals not quite the terrifying lung destruction that Cryptopsy, Exmortem, and Krabathor deliver, and the dirty, yet naive riffs aren’t up to death metal’s roaring chaotic snuff. Time changes everything. Yeah well, one thing time isn’t changing is the page in my extensive book saying HH are indeed death metal. As far as vocals go, there wasn’t anything quite like them out there, and singers previously belting out fits of diabolism and sepulchral fury were probably glaring at this guy from a sleepy hamlet in Switzerland who called himself Satanic Slaughter. As well, a conversation took place sometime late in '83 or earlier that year between Tom and Noise headmaster Karl Walterbach that went something like “Hey Karl, I have an idea for the title for the compilation…”
At one time, the Freudstein cover art was a real shocker. Today, it doesn’t even cause an eye to bat not because it’s goofily rendered or uneventful, but simply because it’s just so everyday to us now, much like the crumbling border of acceptable cursing and sex on (American) television. Time’s ‘cutting edge’ slices away layers of what is inadmissible as society ages, and just as this is no longer reveled as ‘true’ death metal by many, the same blade dices the cover’s one-time banished visual. It’s the reason why fans buying it beyond the first pressing (that was recalled) were forced to take the red and black yawn of a cover instead.
Any of the tracks on Apocalyptic Raids save the godless “Triumph of Death” could’ve appeared here and had the same bludgeoning impact as “Revelations of Doom” and “Messiah”; a sparse, but potent non-formula of rudimentary musicianship, diesel powered mobility, inherit drawling of chords, and gravel-gargling vox that rumbles with an authentic, prehistoric prejudice toward anything on the domesticated side of Venom. And on the other side, the barbaric side of Venom? – a void where there is nil except for Hellhammer and Slayer.
Separating these two tracks is mere locomotion. “Revelations of Doom” is your typical (funny calling it typical now when at the time it was atypical for most unless you had some of their demos) HH track, elemental in its precision and course and differentiated only by a chorus that snakes slightly out of line. “Messiah” pulls the reigns for an even slower effect than that of “Massacra” and is slightly more varied musically but lacks the steadfast drive of “Revelations of Doom”. Not the band’s finest hour, but easily the most baleful of the four.
Hellhammer made this almost cluelessly-titled disk more supportable. Funny the only non-Teutonic band on the compilation would be the most pestilent.
“…no escape, time stands still, feel his deadly breath...”
Death Metal pt. 2 of 4
Of the four bands featured, Running Wild are basically tied with Helloween for significance, though admittedly more people have heard of and are more familiar with the latter for some reason. I prefer the former, and since I’m saving the band interpretation for the future review of the debut (because that’s where it really matters), I’ll cut to the chase.
These two tracks were also featured on one of their ’84 demos, and one of them possesses a tiny component the band’s debut wouldn’t promote: the high note. “Iron Heads” is book-ended by a pair that Rock´n´Rolf Kasparek was probably saving up for around eight years (and by ’84 that would make Rolf, well, not young for the time) and is his only shot at a NWOBHM nuance. Otherwise, his masculine tone is a fair antonym to the soaring-voiced vision of many singers preceding it and is fine for a song that’s as grass roots straightforward as “Iron Heads”. The chorus is the song’s thrown brick, repetitively breaking through the fairly smooth glass of the main structure. “Bones to Ashes” is even more axiomatic and even-keeled except for a few rhythmic surges that only momentarily enliven the project.
Anyone who’s heard Gates to Purgatory will deduce these aren’t the prime rib of the band’s material, nor are they worthy to stand beneath the banner of death metal, but hey.
Fun fact #267: Despite the fairly early date of Death Metal, Running Wild’s initial moment on wax is a 1,000 pressed compilation called Debut No. 1 on the lost Raubbau Records, now very rare. Now isn’t that special.
Death Metal pt. 3 of 4
Probably the most dynamic on this compilation is Helloween even if it does kinda seem (and sound) like they’re looking at each other awkwardly trying to figure out what the other is doing on the first track. About halfway through “Oernst of Life” the gang ratchets the loose bolts with tandem guitar drama unsurprisingly like Maiden and with vocals most matching those Brits thus far (real tough considering the other bands). “Metal Invaders” continues this spiel with a minor speed metal glare that hauls in boatloads of inspiration from other British acts flanking Maiden, known and unknown, headstrong come-sing-along passages aren’t just a domination of the chorus, and by the time the track ends in party mode you know you’ve heard another band still angling for an identity of its own.
So far the most charismatic and audibly talented carpools with the Band of the Decade, and a crowded vehicle it is, but anyone who developed temporary insanity just for an instant and thought Helloween and its pumpkins…well, you get the picture.
Death Metal pt. 4 of 4:
Yes, the enigmatic Dark Avenger mysteriously melted into the metal woodwork immediately after recording these two tracks for the sampler like someone who went out for cigarettes and never came back. Yes, the band appears to be yet another random tree branch caught up in the New Wave of Metal flood that’s pushed to the banks of the river to rot, forgotten. Yes, the world isn’t missing anything by yet another German band’s absence. Actually that’s not entirely true.
Play “Lords of the Night” first. It’s so enslaved by tradition it can be an ‘everyband’ song, a tune that anyone from Saracen to Tysondog to Raven or a clone thereof could’ve portrayed with exact success and merit. From the head-hits-the-pillow galloping rhythm to the strange Ape de Martini/Oz vocals, it’s a pretty promising assumption the world isn’t missing anything if this stays buried. And now that you’ve trudged your way through that opus, backtrack to “Black Fairies”, easily the catchiest track to literally throw a hook into this thing. While not a picture of ornate musicianship or stunning originality, the track is simply infectious with its driving gait, memorable main melody, and a flowing, weirdly epic chorus that’s capped off ideally by a single falsetto note to bring it home. It’s a good, clean song I’m glad was excavated.
Overall, the Death Metal sampler is more than just a legendary compilation and collectors item. It strapped a jet engine onto its featured bands, propelling three of them into long fruitful careers that would help shape the underground while one unfortunately fizzled in a silent death two songs later, but that’s hardly the record’s fault. It also showcased what Noise Records was preparing to offer.
Everything that happens before the exact second you’re living is history, but there are moments and incidents that become historic. This is one of ‘em.
While far from real death metal, this split does have a small place in history as being the main teaser for the central European heavy metal scene. Running Wild still played raw speed / heavy, Hellhammer were getting it on with their thrash / black style, and Helloween themselves also weren’t entirely power metal at this point. Dark Avenger disbanded sometime after this split, but their contribution hasn’t been forgotten.
Both of Running Wild’s songs have some groovy riffs in the heart of a low-budget dungeon - great way to start off the split and showing the band at a more unprocessed stage than the debut. The uncooked guitar tone plays the early Iron Maiden card by dashing forward regardless of how clean and neat it sounds. The vibe settles with the grumbly bass sticking around despite the charred, demo-like quality and some sloppy playing. “Bone To Ashes” really slays in the rhythm department, thanks in no small part to the consistent drumming and synchronized-headbangable riff.
The atmosphere alone with these two tracks move away from the satanic themes, instead opting for a zombie-themed after-school extravaganza! Rolf doesn’t show too much range aside from rare Halford-like wails; get used to his deep talking with a hint of whining. It works for the tone at hand, but anywhere else and these vocals would be ganged up on. “Bones To Ashes” does drag on a little longer than necessary – the longest song on the split, in fact, though the solo at the end does make up for that extra minute or so of waiting.
Tom keeps his vocals above the guitars, which mange to run amok with a menacing attitude; a very grimy, hopeless tone without a sight of light. “Messiah” is really impressive in this department – tortured, hapless riffs with Tom letting out some deafening yells and growls in the distance. God damn, thrash like this is unmatched in heaviness – despondent atmosphere with a vociferous bass playing from Martin. You can hardly make out the lines, but the tone is what really makes these tracks the hideous and scariest ones this split has to offer.
Drumming for “Revelation Of Doom” (Gorgoroth, anyone?) is louder than “Messiah,” but all it consists of is steady cymbal bashing. It gets annoying and drowns out the snare hits a little, which are ripe for the production (poor compared to Running Wild’s job). The double bass is horrendous – like stomping your foot on a carpet while sitting down. Considering the options at the time, it’s hard to get worked up over it, especially in view of how these two tracks reek of death, decay, and malevolence.
This band has almost no history – only a couple recognized releases before splitting up shortly after, but their recordings shouldn’t go entirely unnoticed. Between all the bands on here, I’m most surprised by this group. The vocals belong to hard rock, as they’re very “out there” like Glenn Danzig. The music itself crosses between Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden – really addicting stuff with killer riff attacks and a snarling bass. Drums gallop with great use of double bass steps and a “bite-and-hold” snare / cymbal tactic. “Lords Of The Night” show everyone working together to deliver an incredibly ambitious track backed by a solo bridge that kicks this split’s ass.
Hellhammer has the atmosphere, Running Wild has the grooves, and Helloween yuck it up with the vocals, but Dark Avenger nails everything down like crazy. I’m not too gung ho about “Black Fairies” as the lyrics are incredibly cheesy (considering how over-the-top the vocals are, too) – these vocals just sound so awkward, but they somehow work regardless of the miscomputation. They aren’t operatic or deep grunts, but nasally talking / yelling with an accent that’s impossible to pinpoint.
Helloween compete primarily against Dark Avenger for the best solo bridge, but it’s a tough call. “Oernst Of Life” is a hectic, cut-throat speed metal track with Kai Hansen wailing in the distance like some tyrant. A creepy track that’s made less creepy by the wave-like riffs crashing against everything that isn’t wet. The drums are insanely heavy for such an early recording – they’re not thumping or up-front, but the cymbal / snare / drum bass hit just packs a punch right to the senses. The recording quality is tighter than Dark Avenger but less clear than Running Wild; the band is the fastest of all four, though. Hansen of all is the highest of all four vocalists featured on the split – nobody on here can top his stratosphere-screams.
There’s no fluffiness to be found with Helloween, which is just how I like my speed / heavy metal. Between the riffs and the vocals, there’s no room for child’s play around here. Gimmicks are one thing, but the tone is very serious, no matter how high Hansen can go with those vocals – and he’s singing in the distance! Bass is hardly there compared to the other three bands, even though you can just hear it criss-crossing with the riffs.
Hellhammer and Helloween both have their sound together moreso than the other two bands in the sense that they’d be continually maturing these two sounds. Hellhammer would of course disband and become Celtic Frost before maturing their sound (and then ditching it for a second) while Helloween honed their speed metal endeavors before digging into power metal. Dark Avenger had something going here but never got out of the cubicle while Running Wild would drastically change their sound from raw heavy metal to epic, regal heavy / power metal that remains a testament to Germans everywhere. From here you can venture off into three of these bands’ careers and find some damn good material. These starter tracks are acceptable, but when these old dogs learn new tricks, they’re usually better.
So yeah, first Helloween demo/recording/split and they already rock copious amounts of ass. The songs are pretty much along the lines of their debut EP and Walls of Jericho, speed metal with an emphasis on riffs and melodies like a souped-up Judas Fuckin' Priest/Iron Fuckin' Maiden.
There's only two songs, "Oernst of Life" and "Metal Invaders." I have no fucking idea what 'Oernst' is and what kind of fucked-up babelfish could have created such a word, but hey all is forgiven because it is SPEED metal. Yes emphasis on SPEED. It's kinda like "Starlight" riff-wise, and the structure's fairly similar...so Uncle Weiki sez "when a formula works don't change it!" The harmonized middle-section's very good though nowhere near as colon cleansing as "Halloween," "Ride the Sky," "The Saints." Too bad this has never been re-recorded, I'll never understand why shit like "Gorgar" (which Weiki admits is pretty moronic,) got on the album and THIS cut is forgotten.
Song two is "Metal Invaders" which will be sped up in Walls of Jericho. This one's not bad I guess, but the general mindset in SPEED metal is...well SPEED so I definitely like the album version much better. Other than speed not much has changed, if you've got Walls of Jericho ('if' is merely hypothetical, everyone has Walls of Jericho...if not I will rape you, your mama, your grandmama, and that boy next door...sideways) there's not really a reason to find this version, and since it's a bonus track on the remaster you'll have it already.
Performance here is not as tight as their latter efforts. Ingo tries his best to keep the tempo, and most of the time he succeeds. Maggi plays pretty much as expected, his bass is pretty audible too. Weiki and Kai not quite getting their harmony sections down pat and one of 'em plays slightly faster at times. Kai's voice...well since this is per-Land of the Free you all know what he's like. I don't really like him (The Metal Inquisition must be preparing my pyre as I type,) his voice is raspy, and not the good DEASSS METALL raspy either, and his high notes are fairly weak compared to Michi and Andi.
Production's great for a demo, though the expected muddiness and slight buzz is there.
Should you get it? Well, if only for "Oernst of Life" but since the Walls of Jericho remaster has the two tracks you no longer need to sell your firstborn for a copy of the Death Metal vinyl, pick up the Walls of Jericho remaster and you too can listen to a rare piece of Helloween history.