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"The Burning Church" was my first exposure to Lucifer's Hammer, and at the time I was under the impression that it was their debut demo effort. I later learned that they actually had two prior tapes in the late 1980's that were in the speed/thrash style. There's absolutely no trace of that on this recording, and it makes me wonder if those earlier demos even exist. In any case, blackened death metal is the formula here and not surprisingly the direction that Lucifer's Hammer would continue to pursue throughout the rest of their career.
The production is rather unconventional for a studio demo, as it reminds me more of a live soundboard recording of a concert. The vocals and low-end drums are very clear and out front, while the guitars, bass and highs get buried in the mix. It almost sounds like they just tacked on a microphone to the bass drum, handed another one to the vocalist and didn't bother with the rest. On the positive side, Todd Cushmen's vocal attack is absolutely fucking killer. He sounds like a cross between Ace Stills of Goatlord and Pete Helmkamp during his Order from Chaos days - abysmal, drawn-out, throaty chanting with that demonic rasp to it.
There are four songs on the tape. The first two are very fast-paced, filled to the brim with high-speed thrash beats and furious double bass sections. There's even a catchy punk beat played by the drummer during "Entrance of Gehenna". Because of the fast tempo of these songs, it becomes difficult to make out any of the riffs - especially when the vocalist is singing overtop of everything. There's still a very dark atmosphere to them that makes you want to bang your head, but subconsciously you're only following the vocals and drums rather than the guitars. The only exception to this is when Sean Peters unleashes an aggressive, Sadistik Exekution-style guitar solo.
The second half of the demo is much better. The music slows down to mid-tempo and below, the drummer focuses more of his attention to trudging double bass, and for the first time the guitars really begin to emerge out of the darkness. "Eternally Doomed" is the highlite here, with a series of spellbinding, keyboard-tinged doom riffs and haunting guitar leads that sound like they were taken from a lost Abhorrence (Fin) session. Todd's vocals have also never sounded better, and it becomes very obvious that this type of medium-paced presentation best suits the style of his voice.
What I disliked most about "The Burning Church" is not so much the guitar-absent production of the first couple songs, but the excessive use of intros on the tape. The ones used to open and close the demo are just ridiculously long. It wouldn't be as bad if the band actually wrote and recorded these themselves, but it sounds like they were taken from the soundtracks of various horror movies. If you combine all of the instrumental intros together, the total amount of time would probably be enough to fit another song or two!
Despite the negative points, this is still a worthy demo release that I would recommend to all fans of evil death metal.