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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.