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Living Death, the neighbours of Violent Force, were never the talk of the town. Nevertheless, their best full-lengths ("Metal Revolution" and "Protected from Reality") were welcomed very friendly in the German scene. The EP format was less attractive and, as far as I remember, the distribution of the vinyl did not work very well. Apart from these difficult circumstances, the band was not at risk to cut its own throat, because the songs did not appear as recycled leftovers. Instead, one was listening to a band that lived up to its reputation.
Toto, the man with the exceptionally shrill voice, ruled the roost. He screamed, roared and howled as if there was no tomorrow. His comrades contributed a few background vocals, but his performance remained unrivalled. Don't get me wrong, nobody needs to love Toto's way of singing. Yet it is a fact that he added the unique selling point of the works of Living Death until he left the band. The suboptimal production lacked of density, but the level of harshness showed the determination of the Germans. Living Death delivered 100% thrash while many posers sank into their grave voluntarily. Okay, only a few numbers of posers. Maybe one. Or zero.
Be that as it may, the chorus of the fast-paced "The Way (Your Soul Must Go)" had so much lethal power that it was really surprising that the cemetery board of Poser Town did not suffer from overwork. Toto sang a duet with himself while any form of friendliness did not play a role. The violent chorus rolled over the listener like a steamroller with the engine of a Formula One car. But the whole song shined with its fury and the guitar solo did not eschew a very high level of intensity. Generally speaking, the solos ennobled the tracks, because they added a pinch of insanity. Yet it goes without saying that the award for the most lunatic performance went to Toto and his love-it-or-hate-it appearance.
Each and every song put the emphasis on rapid rhythms, while surprising breaks were missing. One can gripe about a lack of diversity, but come on, we are talking about four songs - and despite a widespread misconception, EPs are just too short for celebrating experimental orgies. Quite the reverse, the homogeneity of "Back to the Weapons" was a value in itself. Consequently, if you are interested in Living Death, you have to know "Nuclear Greetings" and "The Way (Your Soul Must Go)", while the remaining pieces do not surpass a solid level. Of course, the EP is defaced with a worthless artwork. The selection of this picture was anything else but an intelligent action. But who cares about this shortcoming as long as the music develops its penetrating power?
Even a cursory glimpse at their linear progression to aggression will reveal that Living Death were well aware of their times, and the darkening and intensification of the speed and thrash metal scene surrounding them. They responded in turn by turning up their own level of violence, and Back to the Weapons is a fine teaser for their third length Protected from Reality. Unlike the Watch Out! EP from 1985, this wasn't primarily built of recycled, re-recorded material, but four fresh new tracks that are consistently pissed and fun, with Toto Bergmann taking his manic screams to a new level of raging extremity that pierces the ears better than anyone at your local body modification parlor.
The emphasis here was on blinding speed, at least for the first three cuts, all of which are about the best things the band had recorded by this point. "Nuclear Greetings" features bombastic riffing, loaded with both attitude and melody, Bergmann injecting his harpy horrors into each line, even countering himself with a deeper, almost blackish vocal tone in the chorus. "Bloody Dance" doesn't skip a beat, the band forcing themselves directly back into the same pace, with a similar mix of vocals, and this is one of my favorite Living Death tracks ever, though I do still crack up when it sounds like the vocals are themselves about to start laughing. It's very similar to what Destruction might sound like if Schmier just did his screams for the entire duration of a track. "The Way (Your Soul Must Go)" has some deeper, vicious riffs beneath it, but Toto is once again through the stratosphere, like a wicked witch cursing through the skyline, while the band enforces her with gang shouts.
"Child of Illusion" reduces the tempo of the EP to a mid-pace, with more similarity to their material on Vengeance from Hell or Watch Out!. Basic, working class speed metal with incessant shrieking vocals, but clearly the least impressive track here, and I can see why it was tucked on the end and not placed to interject the rapid barrage that led to it. This track aside though, the contents of Back to the Weapons are among the best Living Death had ever produced, before their refinement into a more focused, technical thrash band with Protected from Reality and the succeeding albums. One last, wild ride off into the night, steel engines screaming as the carnage ensues, and if you can find it, almost mandatory for fans of German speed/thrash whether you're into Destruction, Vendetta, Holy Moses, Iron Angel, early Deathrow, Rage, or Paradox to check out.
I was pleasantly surprised at this EP. I had only previously heard Vengeance of Hell, and thought the vox were kind of weak. The rest of the band sounded good on that one, but I never went out looking for more Living Death until I happened accross Back to the Weapons among a stack of LPs that had been marked down, as that store was discontinuing the selling of vinyl. I grabbed it for like $4 and took it home. I unfortunately defaced the cover trying to remove the sticker covering the boobs of a mutant being strangled by a guy in a gas mask. The EP had the same signature vox I remembered from Vengeance of Hell, but they sounded much more powerful than they did on that album. I was pleased with the power production on the whole EP-- extreme metal doesn't work with flat production-- and with the overall quality of the songwriting. The guitars are tight, fast and loud, and the leads are at least competent. The thing about Living Death is, Thorsten IS the band. His falsetto vocal style is like some hideous, bastard fusion of King Diamond with a hissing cat. I guess I'd describe the band as similar to King Diamond meets Metal Church, in terms of both sound and idiom. The backing vox on "Nuclear Greetings" aren't as good as say, Mantas screaming "Die Hard!" in the Venom classic, but "The Way" is great from start to finish, backing vox included-- a true Living Death classic! If you want to hear the best of the band, then I'd recommend Back to the Weapons as the one to check out.
Living Death had gained some more momentum after the release of their second full-length effort Metal Revolution, which turned out to be a minor classic in the underground. Internally, drummer Andreas Oberhoff opted to leave and Atomic Steif (a.k.a. Guido Richter) would take his place. Living Death would then go into the studio to record a small amount of material in the form of the Back To The Weapons EP.
This is where Living Death become totally thrash oriented, and the change is immediately apparent as soon as Nuclear Greetings kicks in. The band here are playing harder and faster than previously, with the songs being propelled by some highly aggressive and quick riffing and thunderous drumming. The odd one out is the Motorhead-ish Bloody Dance, which is slightly slower speed metal, but still holds it's own against the other slices of thrash on this EP. The other three songs would serve as the foundation of Living Death's sound on the next album, especially the more complicated Nuclear Greetings and the frantic Child Of Illusion.
Steif wastes no time establishing himself within the band, powering the band with his rock-steady drumming. His style is similar to that of his predecessor, except faster and slightly more fill happy. He is particularly aggressive during Child Of Illusion.
Frank Fricke and Reiner Kelch refine their twin guitar approach even further, putting together blazingly fast and exceptionally tightly-executed riffing throughout all the songs. Their forearms must have been as stiff as lead after laying these down. Their lead guitars tend to walk the line between frenetic shredding and complete chaos. Dieter Kelch in his role as bassist seems to do little else other than back up the guitars, laying down a solid low end.
And here is the part which will decide whether or not you will enjoy the album. Thorsten Bergmann is back, and even more abrasive than before. The high-pitched screech of the previous album has altered slightly, coming across a little less melodic and a lot rougher. The most apt comparison to his voice is to that of a pig being slowly and painfully tortured. This approach is hit and miss. On Bloody Dance, his vocals are almost unbearable. On the other tracks, most notably the second verse in Child Of Illusion, he sounds like he wants to jump out of the speakers and eviscerate the listener. A nice aggressive performance from Thorsten, even if it is a little hard to swallow.
The sound here is a little muffled, and at times Steif's kit comes across as unclear and drowned in hi-hat at times, but otherwise it is a good mix. The guitars are up-front and reasonably well-defined, and Thorsten is right up the front (although this could very well be a bad thing depending on your point of view).
All in all this is a nice piece of tightly executed German thrash, and if you can tolerate the vocals it is well worth your time.