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For starters this album has one of my favourite album covers of all time. While it might seem a little hackneyed to some – I think it’s wonderful. Two children play with their Living Death mascot (every German home had one in the 1980s!) whilst they are unaware of the looming spectre who has come to heed their call and reap some unknown horror on their sleepy little German town (he’s probably out to get people who think Thorsten Bergmann’s vocals suck). It’s a marvellous little piece and the best part is that the band are pictured on the back sleeve at the very same haunted house. I wonder if they ventured up there every week for practice? I love it because despite being somewhat silly – or maybe because it’s somewhat silly – it’s just so unrelentingly macabre. And that really sums up the whole Living Death experience for me; they’re somewhat unusual in their approach and while you couldn’t argue that Protected from Reality beats Reign in Blood when it comes to teaching fear, it gives its own special brand of terror that probably came from a quaint little German town (well-connected to nearby municipalities and with both a LIDL and an ALDI).
Despite their status as German B-leaguers, Living Death are far from a generic band to me… their music’s just too unorthodox. Even at their most ‘normal-sounding’ moments on the albums that bookend this album they’ve still got a really bizarre edge to them. Sure, sometimes Metal Revolution sounds like Accept but it’s Accept if Udo were locked up in an dungeon and rattling his chains. And yeah, maybe ‘Tuesday’ on World Neuroses sounds like a bit like Skid Row but it’s a gangly, grossly undersexed version of Skid Row. For these reasons and more, I could never, ever confuse Living Death with the legions of normal-sounding Germans whose names generally aren’t so well known outside of their motherland (that means you, Gravestone!). Similarly, while Protected from Reality sees the band switching from speed to thrash it’s not exactly a step into a more ho-hum world but rather the band going further down their own sordid little rabbit hole. Musically, this might not shake any foundations in terms of originality but it’s so mercilessly grim that it just couldn’t be the work of any band but Living Death. After all, they don’t just sing about infanticide they sing about an infanticide – in two parts, obviously it must have been a drawn-out grizzly affair – that is so vile that it’s a horrible infanticide.
Of course, the sticking point with most folks with Living Death is Thorsten Bergmann. Even in an age when people are quite used to the idea of a vocalist who sounds like he is hell-bent on shredding his own vocal chords it seems that Thorsten’s shrill, moustachioed approach is off-putting. For me, however, he’s one of the biggest selling points for this band. I guess he’s roughly somewhere between Udo and King Diamond, but really he’s his own vocalist and I’ve not come across another vocalist who sounds (or dares to sound) like this. But Living Death have never been about individual performances and their main appeal is their atmosphere of that can best be described as strangely menacing (much like a daddy-long-legs). It’s just so… ugly sounding. It’s too grizzly for most metalheads to stomach.
However, even if you don’t care for Mr Bergmann much you can still appreciate the band’s best track which is ‘Wood of Necrophiliac’. It’s an incredibly sinister instrumental that honestly rivals any classic horror theme tune you’d care to mention. You can really imagine a necrophiliac stalking some foreboding forest in the dead of night – or Jimmy Saville fiddling with the recently deceased at Leeds mortuary. The gradually building tension and harrowing nature of it all really makes for one of metal’s finest instrumentals. Outside of that there’s still plenty to reveal in. ‘War of Independence’ is perhaps the second catchiest track here and it rides a fine riff as Bergmann wails as his life depended on it.
Honestly, it’s quite easy to hear why Living Death weren’t the best loved band around when it comes to late-80s thrash. They were clearly too ‘out-there’ for the regular short-wearing thrash populous even if they adopted the standard gang vocal approach for choruses on this album. In fact, I might well recommend this album more to people who like appreciate extreme metal rather than people who just want ‘fun’ thrash (hell, the album itself does have a bit of black metal what with ‘Manila Terror’s Celtic Frost-esque riffs and ‘Wood of Necrophiliac’ which remarkably sounds like Master’s Hammer before Master’s Hammer).
Living Death´s debut suffered from a terrible sound, but already their second full-length presented a great improvement. "Protected from Reality" went a step further and showed the band in top form. It offered some of the best German thrash metal tracks from this period. And it may sound very patriotic, but you surely know that Germany had a lot of strong thrash bands during the eighties of the last century. It was therefore for every thrash brigade a challenge to achieve a high position in the national ranking.
Violent Force were of the opinion that "Velbert is absolutely dead". But Living Death, who also originated from this town, did not share that fatalistic point of view. They acted with determination and tenacity. Bulky riffs opened the album in a very rude way. It became immediately clear that the band knew how to pull you into the tracks. "Horrible Infanticide (Part One)", the furious opener, unleashed a tidal wave of thrash metal. After its crude beginning, it turned to a straight high speed attack. The song was thematically related to the opener of the B side, "Vengeance (Horrible Infanticide Part Two)". Also the musical approach of these both tunes was fairly similar. "Vengeance" reached the same level of ferocity, straightness and poisonousness, among other things because of its crunchy chorus and some mysterious breaks. The atmosphere of the cover artwork especially matched with the aura of these songs.
Lead vocalist Toto Bergmann, strongly disputed in view of his Micky Mouse performance on the first album, made his best contribution so far. He still sounded very individual, but his high-pitched screaming followed a more controlled approach. Nevertheless, Toto´s way of singing remained an unique selling point. He did no longer sound like the well-known mouse, but like a dying cat in its last minutes. In other words: simply ingenious. These two words could also be used for the description of the drilling guitar sound that did not fail to deliver an extra dose of aggressiveness. Overall, the mix reflected the spirit of thrash metal while impressing with both its density and its liveliness. In particular, the entire A side was an orgy of phenomenal riffs, vibrant breaks and menacing melodies. "Wood of Necrophiliac" constituted the most remarkable track. This instrumental piece created a very sinister atmosphere because of the interplay of emotional guitars and flattening riffs. Without any question, it is still one of the best instrumentals that I have ever heard. Much to my surprise, I did not miss the expressive vocals of Toto. Each and every riff as well as every single guitar line hit the mark. Rarely used keyboards and simple background vocals enhanced the effect of the aforementioned atmosphere. The only error of the song was that it ended too soon and too abruptly.
The B side surprised with a broader musical range. "The Galley" pummeled you with a doomy heaviness while "Eisbein (mit Sauerkraut)" was meant to be the funny conclusion. To be honest, it was not very funny at all, but the composition itself met the expectations. Nevertheless, the B side could not compete with the first half of the vinyl. With the exception of "Vengeance", the songs were slightly weaker than the pieces of the A side. However, the band did not present any throwaway track. While being driven by its musical conviction, the five-piece found its own way so that "Protected from Reality" did not lack of originality. Nevertheless, the band did not undermine the principles of the genre. Admittedly, it would be an exaggeration to say that Living Death managed to square the circle. But nobody could ignore the surprising development of the band. Just think back to the immature debut.
Living Death were one of the earliest Teutonic metal acts to emerge in the 80’s – starting as a rather primitive heavy/ speed group, they would embrace a slightly oriented thrash sound by the end of the decade. Like most of their peers, they showed fascination for intensity and velocity, specially – yet never becoming as extreme as their subgenre compatriots. Eluding the guttural vocals, the increasing sophistication and melody of power metal too and the absolute ferocity of thrash, they preferred to offer accelerated music with heavy riffs without following the standards of a specific music style, besides speed metal. With a bunch of demos and a couple of albums and EPs behind them by 1987, Protected From Reality was released – considered by many fans their finest work, it shows certain improvement from preceding rudimentary releases. In a year when German thrash reached peaks, it seemed unavoidable that some reminiscence of that subgenre wouldn’t affect these guys’ music.
Actually, both “Horrible Infanticide (Part One)” and “Manila Terror” sound kinda thrashy at times, not only because of those rampaging tempos – riffs are sharp and energetic as well, on other hand remaining technically humble. Configuration of the music isn’t intended to be complicated, structures are clearly untouched and apart from a couple of accents and stops, uniformity defines the direction of the songs. Riffs are simplistic, generally minimalist and relegated to support that bunch of vocals, which become the main attraction, essentially. Other frenetic cuts as the sequel “Vengeance (Horrible Infanticide Part Two)” have nothing else to offer, following an exact pattern without notable modifications – solos are still noisy and uncontrolled while riffs & hooks present no progression. Although the band puts bigger attention on instrumental sequences on “Intruder”, featuring lengthier pickin’ parts, better arranged and occasionally spectacular, with a smaller percentage of innerving lyrics. For a second, melody is added as well to Living Death’s formula on “War Of Independence” in that opening lick, soon introducing more insatiable speed and predictable riffing, so you see the group rarely changes their ways, which are exclusively focused on making the fastest music as possible. However, some exceptions can be found in the pack: “Natures Death” includes a more accessible tempo, even though Atomic Steif still kicks his double-bass hard the tunes is considerably heavier than the rest, adding very persistent choruses that once again take control over the basic instrumental section. “The Galley” is another slow one here which also exposes evident mediocrity and lack of direction, uninventive lines and an unfocused perspective that leads nowhere. “Wood Of Necrophiliac” in contrast incorporates some refreshing acoustic arrangements, setting a competent basis for Fricke & R. Kelch to jam and play some cool solos, revealing musicianship and talent other titles as “Eisbein (Mit Sauerkraut)” are deprived of.
The sound of Living Death hasn’t evolved significantly, of course now the music is way more refined and professional compared with the early stuff – though the group seems stuck on the same priorities and goals, which are elementary and unpretentious, still playing as fast and raw as possible without emphasizing technique, melody or other characteristics their compatriots were making a vital part of their methodology by 1987. They’d later reconsider expanding their horizons and objectives but in this record, simplicity is supreme – even though that breathtaking speed obviously requires precision and skill, structures of tunes expose inefficiency and fragility on their design. These guys perform clearly straight-forward music, adding the necessary arrangements to make it solid and reasonable but lacking grace, creativity and originality. In general, riffs as I said are heterogeneous, offering no substantial variations and inevitably making the music repetitive and tedious. Instrumental passages are at times inexistent, because Toto’s vocals are the driving force the rest of sections are following, most of the time. Solos are lacking taste and rigor, abusing of trendy pedal effects and of course dive-bombs, which might be cool on the first couple of compositions – yet the guitar combo often abuses of them, revealing technical limitations and absence of ideas. Fortunately, there’s Atomic Steif on drums, the most incredible sticksman of the whole Teutonic scene who provides completely precise rhythm basis, undoubtedly restricted by the concept of the band to simply play fast without detail or depth. And of course, there’s Toto’s brutally annoying high-pitch voice, the most singular element on Living Death’s music, comical sometimes – other times as crude and raspy as Udo’s, offering an eloquent performance in the style of John Cyriis or Mike Sanders, though much more chaotic and extravagant.
Protected From Reality pales beside other extraordinary Teutonic metal records of that year, specially when all their pals were eventually playing technically superior music or presenting peculiarities in their sound, definitely pushing away the vulnerability of the past. Living Death rather repeated the same formulas with certain grace and charm occasionally – yet predominantly getting stagnant and deprived of innovation. On other hand, speed metal fans will surely enjoy this because there are omnipresent tempos and lots of double bass-kicks – melody is denied however, in contrast with the more mainstream direction their equals from Helloween and Rage followed. Even though this record sounds notably thrashy, it still concentrates on velocity and vigor without getting totally brutal – so it takes influence from diverse subgenres without obeying one specifically apart from speed metal as I mentioned. Therefore, direction is unclear but this is, still to this date, these guys’ most convincing attempt.
German thrash is best known for its acclaimed triumvirate of Destruction, Kreator and Sodom, but just below the surface you will find a very solid roster of bands who didn't quite make it as far: Tankard, Deathrow, Vendetta, Mekong Delta, Protector, and then there is of course Living Death. With a wilder style employing the shrieking vocals of Thorsten Bergman, they ravaged the scene with their early albums Vengeance of Hell and Metal Revolution. However, the filthy speed metal of their third album Protected from Reality has always stood out to me as their best work.
There are no frills on this album. Bergman's vocals are plastered all over the twisting, chugging, bulldozer thrash riffs, as much in the class of NWOBHM-on-crack vein as they possessed a Teutonic thrash edge. The album begins with the pulverizing "Horrible Infanticide (Part One)", and the field is immediately leveled by the sound of Metallica meets Destruction beneath an air raid siren. "Manila Terror" follows this assault with another, though this is not my favorite song here. "Natures Death" starts with a good mid-paced thrash riff under a wailing, noisy lead, then begins a crunchy bit akin to Anthrax. The verse vocals are sick, I like the riffing with the atmosphere of the squealing guitar harmony. "Wood of Necrophiliac" begins with a very brooding 80s acoustic guitar, lots of reverb, interwoven with some slower paced chugging, vocal choirs and instrumental creepiness. A very interesting track. "Vengeance (Horrible Infanticide Part Two)" is a scorching thrasher with very Cirith Ungol-like vocals over the bands gritty street level thug thrashing. "Intruder" is a speed metal mosh slugfest with some sick breakdowns, Bergman's vocals are excellent here, cutting right into you. He sounds like a girl, but not...maybe a harpy...a thrashing harpy! "The Galley" is big juicy metal sauteed in a slower, driving pace and has some sloppy but sick lead work. "War of Independence" begins with some nice thrashing along to Bergman's psycho lyrics, before the drums pick up into a speed metal mayhem. The album ends with the goofy "Eisbein (Mit Sauerkraut)", your Tankard type speed metal anthem about ham hock and condiments...yeah, we'll not touch this.
The album is aggressive and raw; if you like this old school stuff you'll become totally infected by the explosive energies and bang your head into dust. At points it feels a little uncouth and sloppier than other German thrash, but when you're having this much fun, who cares. Though they have numerous albums of a similar quality, I've always enjoyed one of if not the best, alongside Metal Revolution...the band did mature as they went on and their later albums are a little more thoughtful, but the raw and pummeling feel of this is where it's really at.
It had not been an easy road for Germany’s Living Death. Their 1984 debut album Vengeance Of Hell could possibly have beaten Metallica’s debut out of the gate chronologically as a thrash metal milestone, but weak sound and performances hampered it. Their second album Metal Revolution was similarly compromised, and being on a nowhere label like Mausoleum was at the time didn’t help them. But by 1986’s Back To The Weapons EP it was clear that a more serious tact had been adopted by the band, and their rather slack thrash metal style was being overhauled.
Thus, this album deserved to be much bigger news than it was, as it brought Living Death into the death metal realm of Sodom and Kreator with no lack of ability or power present. True, singer Thorsten Bergmann had always had a tough voice to love, but here the material is abrasive enough to make his distorted wails make contextual sense. A much heavier and darker sound job cranks the guitars and bass up, allowing the fast and tight outbursts of “Horrible Infanticide” and “Vengeance” to ring true. “Manila Terror” and “Intruder” are similarly strong, while the instrumental “Wood Of Necrophiliac” reveals some playing skills within the band that were heretofore unknown.
Sadly it took two years for this album to finally see release in America (it was originally issued only in Europe and I have no idea why the US release was so delayed), by which time Living Death’s position was diminished further. They’d persevere for a short while after, but not for long. This record is the one that should have broken them, and thrashers and death metal fans should make every effort to hear it.
It was 1987, and Living Death had established a reputation as a solid and dependable thrash act. Their EP Back To The Weapons showed them progressing into a more aggressive form of their speedy thrash. Around this time, guitarists Reiner Kelch and Frank Fricke would begin their involvement with progressive-thrash studio project Mekong Delta. After that, Living Death would reconvene and begin work on their third full-length album Protected From Reality.
What we have here is essentially a continuation of the sound they'd found on Back To The Weapons. However, there are quite a few new elements that have trickled in here from Fricke's and Kelch's (R) involvement in Mekong Delta. The more straightforward cuts involve the fast palm-muted single note riffing found in the previous release. Perfect examples can be seen in the violent opening cut Horrible Solution (a.k.a. Horrible Infanticide), Manila Terror, Vengeance (a.k.a Horrible Solution/Infanticide Pt 2) and Eisbein (Mit Sauerkraut). Other tracks take this approach and add to them some more progressive feel, with some odd time signatures, odd bar lengths, and some rather jarring riff changes. This can be seen in Intruder, Vengeance and War Of Independence. On other tracks there is a much more technical and progressive feel to them, such as the long and convoluted instrumental Wood Of Necrophiliac and the slow and grinding The Galley, which features one of the most unpredictable time signatures I've ever heard. The band also hint at their future direction (lyrically at least) in the closing track, Eisbein (Mit Sauerkraut), which is a fast but silly tune which is basically the bands homage to pork hocks (eisbein). The first five tracks are great, but the next three don't seem to be up to the same standard as the first five, before things pick up again with the aforementioned Eisbein.
Frank Fricke and Reiner Kelch take a more adventurous tack to their twin guitar assault on this release. They base their attack on their fast palm-muted riffing as always, but they've incorporated some new tricks into their arsenal. They tend to play off each other a lot more, with one holding the rhythm and the other going over the top with a lead line. They also experiment with odd timings, as seen in areas of Manila Terror and Intruder, the ending of Natures Death, throughout Wood Of Necrophiliac and the absolute bastard of a time signature found in The Galley (which I still have no idea what the bloody signature is!). Their lead playing is still the frenetic shredding that was on earlier efforts, although in some areas there is a more refined approach, such as the melodic finger-tapped arpeggios in Horrible Solution. All of this is supported by the solid, if mostly unremarkable bass playing of Dieter Kelch. Dieter plays root notes and keeps the time, but he's shown to be slightly more active on this release, if only during Wood Of Necrophiliac.
Atomic Steif continues in the same vein as Back To The Weapons, pounding out a relentless fast double-time beat with a few fills here and there. He does use his double-bass a lot more here, especially in Intruder, Manila Terror and Vengeance. He manages to navigate the odd-timings and jarring riff changes of Living Death's music, most notably in The Galley.
Thorsten Bergmann's vocals were always a divisive element with Living Death, with his abrasive scream practically determining solely whether people would enjoy or despise Living Death. Here his approach for the most part a continuation of his work on Back To The Weapons, but more varied. At times he's at his most abrasive (Horrible Solution, Vengeance and the chorus to War Of Independence), employing a scream that's even nastier than his Back To The Weapons approach. Sometimes he utilises his lower range more (The Galley, some parts of War Of Independence), and on Nature's Death his vocals harken back to his work on Metal Revolution. And strangely enough he attempts a brief Gregorian chant (?!!) on Horrible Solution. A more varied approach from Toto on this release, and one that's a little easier on the ears too.
The production is typical 80's thrash production. The sound is mostly built around the guitars, which are full and defined, although a little muffled at times. The lead guitars stand out well. The kit is mixed a little more evenly this time and sounds more powerful as well. Dieter's bass is at times hard to distinguish, although this is more to do with the rather inactive playing style that he favours. Interestingly, Thorsten is actually DOWN in the mix at times. This makes the effect of his rather abrasive style less off-putting, and makes the album slightly more accessible.
Overall, this is a great slab of German thrash with a more pronounced technical edge. Fans of German thrash and early Mekong Delta in particular will find something to enjoy here.