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Known largely through their prolific body of work, as if they were a spiritual North American counterpart to Japan's Sabbat, and also their highly irreverent and memorable band name, Nunslaughter are nuntheless one of our most prized staples of fringe US extremity. I must admit that I've never held the group with the same adulation that other underground purveyors have expressed, but I do think they deserve their piece of pie, because if nothing else, they're really goddamn (and god-damned) fun. Hell's Unholy Fire was originally released in 2000 through Revenge Productions, but as its a bit of a chore to track down, Hells Headbangers has honored us with a CD reissue featuring modified artwork and packaging and a bonus live album which will likely thrill longtime adherents and collectors.
Nunslaughter has long been considered a 'death metal' band, but perhaps it's best to consider the context with which they are thus labeled. They draw their sound from the abusive, early thrash of Possessed and the raw grime of Venom circa 1980-1982, so while aesthetically they earn that brand, the music itself, at least on this album, is a pure manifestation of violent and mosh-worthy thrash with a lot of pretty standard riffing progressions that fluctuate between a muscular mid-paced headbanging meter, and bursts of early Slayer-like speed and screaming ("Cataclysm"). There are certainly enough old school tremolo bursts in the guitars, and a more growled timbre to Don of the Dead's vox to place it on the cusp of the genres, but just don't go into something like this expecting death metal of the Floridian or early Scandinavian scenes, because Nunslaughter are successfully paying tribute to a more archaic sound than either of those.
The 18 songs of the debut were kept quite short, generally hovering between 1-2 minutes but occasionally eclipsing this pattern as in the opener "I Am Death", which is almost 3 minutes due to the holocaust of the intro and the goofy laugh which settles into a Hellhammer like mid pace thrash groove. Here you are introduced to the raw fiber of the guitar tone, the capacity for the band to incorporate blast beats and warlike fills under the most primitive of riffing, but this is one of the more extreme songs on the record alongside the grinding blasts in "Killed by the Cross" and "The Dead Plague". The rest fall into a more simplified pattern with two or perhaps three riffs, rarely the sort that feel innovative or fresh (even for the turn of the century), but quite loyal to the crunchy brutality of late 80s or early 90s thrash somewhere between Nuclear Assault and Demolition Hammer.
I'm not going to lie, there are some admittedly pedestrian sequences throughout the album, even in lieu the band's established modus operandi. Songs like "Death by the Dead" and "Killed by the Cross" don't do a hell of a lot for me, and sound as if the band spent all of two minutes coming up with the basic structures and notation. But these are counterbalanced by a few swanky instances of sacrilege like "Burning Away" where they play around with the counterpoint guttural vocals and early Corrosion of Conformity crossover style songwriting, or "Nunslaughter" itself which follows the contour of another caveman thrash riff interspersed with the eyebrow raising lyrics that you definitely don't want to bring along to C.C.D. class next Sunday. I'd also say that the vocals are in general pretty average, voluminous grunts that are more of a muscular spin on crossover thrash but seem far more effective when they're balanced off with the more expressive growls.
I'm still a little lukewarm on this record, even despite the fact that I love the grimy sewage of the guitar tone and the simple and effective morbidity in a lot of the lyrics. But few if any of these cuts really stick with me, and considering that this took about 13 years and a large number of demos and splits to manifest in the first place, it's not all that impressive (I think I prefer the sophomore, Goat from 2003). That said, Nunslaughter has never held any disillusions about what it was creating, and Hell's Unholy Fire asks nothing more than you bang your head and writhe around in the hellfire for a brief time before moving on. At the very least, it's a reliable record that holds a measure of appeal to fans of sinister proto-black/death metal, crossover or truly old school death from the demo period of the mid-80s, and a firm fist up the poop shoot of the moral majority.
Death metal legends Nunslaughter came forth after thirteen years making music with their first full length album, "Hell's Unholy Fire." In these thirteen years, Nunslaughter had already built a solid reputation for delivering some of the most raw, intense, evil, and bloodthirsty death metal around. When they released this full length, it further cemented them as uncompromising death metal masters. You will hear from Nunslaughter nothing but the most brutal destructive death metal in existence.
This release is not the overproduced, overly technical, feeling-less “brutal” death metal released more often than not by bands claiming to play death metal today. You will not find “spaghetti finger” guitar riffs or br00tal modern breakdowns here, nor will you find pitch shifted toilet bowl vocals or pig squeal crap with Nunslaughter. This is blood drenched, putrid, blasphemous old school death metal created in the darkest corners of hell.
The themes Nunslaughter cover are some of the most dark, evil, and horror inspired in death metal. This darkness and depravity is something many “death metal” bands of today seem to lack. Possessed undead legions rising from their graves, horrific visions of cemetery atrocities, and blasphemy are the lyrical concepts here and the atmosphere is one of utter horror and death.
Musically, the attack is furious and aggressive. Songs are short and relentless in their approach. The longest song is still less than three minutes. This gives the album an assaulting blitzkrieg feeling and after its through you’re left to feel as if you’ve been run over by a tank. The head banging will never stop when listening to this one! Guitar riffs thrash on relentlessly, and often slow up into pummeling mid-paced or somewhat sludgy grooves that will break your neck when they come in! The tremelo picked blasting riffs are also a highlight of this album and some of the most brutal ever recorded.
The tone and gritty distortion is perfect for death metal and isn’t down tuned so much it sounds like mud. Tuning down extremely low has its benefits for slow doom ridden metal, but when you’re playing fast and furious like Nunslaughter it can tend to sound like crap and you can’t really get the full effect of what the guitars are doing. There are no guitar solos or real leads here and the music is so aggressive, short, and to the point that the music doesn’t need them at all. There’s no flash or technicality with Nunslaughter just blistering darkness, evil, and musical aggression. The bass guitar is very loud and further expands the heavy as fuck guitar riffs.
Drumming is so tight it is truly amazing. The beats and fills used are extremely proficient but not overly technical. The drum work never overpowers the riffs but compliments them perfectly. Don of the Dead’s vocal delivery reminds me of David Vincent of early Morbid Angel and he’s one of the best in true death metal. His vocals are a low pitched bestial vomit with a somewhat high rasp in them, which makes it sound so fucking demonic you’ll think hell itself was speaking through your stereo. Production on this album is very raw and gritty sounding but still clear and it fits the music very well.
“Hell’s Unholy Fire” is and essential release for any fan of true death metal. I recommend this album to anyone even remotely interested in death metal. This release is what death metal is all about. With so many quality releases from Nunslaughter out there, splits and live albums included, I would say this is probably the best introduction to the band. BUY OR DIE!
Standout songs: the whole album! But especially Death by the Dead, The Dead Plague, Buried Alive
This is very straightforward old school death metal. But it does not mean that this is similar to every other old school death metal band. Although Nunslaughter does not seem to sound radiacally different from any other band, this really does not sound like anything else. Although this album was released in 2000, it sounds as if this is from not even the 1990s but the 1980s (and not even the late '80s at that; more like mid '80s). There is a very thrashy feeling, and even an almost punkish feeling at times.
The riffage is pretty great here. Most riffs are perfect compounds of thrash and death riffs; these have the darker and "deathly" feeling of death metal riffs, as well as the completely headbangable, perhaps even more so than most thrash riffs. Some tremolo-picked ones are present, along with slow, doomish ones (like the intro of the song Nunslaughter), to give a sort of variation (though overall it does not deviate much into other territory). There are actually quite a lot of slower riffs, but they usually appear as the intro riffs and do not last very long throughout the songs. While most of the riffs sound very old-school, there are bits of newer sounding riffs; but those are incorporated seamlessly for the advantage of the music as a whole. Do not worry about some modern influences ruining an otherwise old-school classic, since that is certainly not the case here.
The vocals! This guy is one of the best death metal vocalists I have heard. This guy has a totally husky voice. It almost seems like he is not even trying to growl, and his own voice is just harsh in itself. Thus, his words are pretty clearly comprehensible. And these vocals are awesome as hell. The vocals really give this album its character and drive the music forth. The vocals kind of make you bang your head even by themselves, without the riffs. See Burning Away, in which only the drums and the vocals are heard for about half the song.
The songs are all very short, with the longest one clocking at around 3 minutes (and that is, including an intro). So, you cannot expect much of a variation within each song, though there are some. These are pretty straightforward, and a hell of a lot fun. No sophistication or technicality here (but don't get me wrong; they are competent musicians). As I said, there are almost punkish sections (which adds to the "old-schoolness"); this almost sound like a deathified Venom or something.
Definitely a great album, and probably the one of the most old-school sounding death metal albums.