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Black death is the reason you all shall die. - 96%

Thalassic, December 24th, 2018

Brocas Helm is the personification of a “cult band”. A San Francisco oddity that started off playing epic metal in the vein of many USPM acts around at the time. Yet if the terms “strange” and “heavy metal” would get a mention in the same sentence, there’s a more than probable chance it’s in connection with Brocas Helm’s second effort, Black Death. Trying to explain what the album sounds like to unprepared ears is a daunting task. I’m not even sure if the band themselves could come up with an apt description of the sound they crafted, nor do I think they care. After all, if anything typifies the music, it’s the attitude of reckless carelessness of whatever anyone else may think of the final result.

On Black Death all of the elements of classic metal are in their place yet it’s the execution, gleeful over the top in its nature, that makes it near incomparable to anything else on the market back then and now. You have the almost medieval melodic leads, the proto-speed metal riffing, the bluesy Motorhead-like licks and soloing as well as the gritty vocal work…which haphazardly seem to get thrown in a blender underneath layers of psychedelic grain. The vocals are buried underneath an almost unnecessary amount of ghostly echoing effects. Sounds of clashing swords, thunder or battle roars pop up out of nowhere. Bass solos are thrown the listener’s way when they least expect it. Leads and solos carry on into song parts where other bands would stop playing. The whole sounds like it was recorded from the sound of the radio blasting out of someone’s car while the songs blaze past at an almost grindcore-like intensity.

It’s completely over the top, almost to an unnecessary extent. At the same time, it’s through exaggerating their sound that they manage to create the feverish vibe the album benefits from. And while it may seem that the focus here is on evoking a certain vibe above anything else, the actual musicianship is of note as well. Be it the notable bass lines or the remarkably frenzied yet forceful drumming. For an album that comes across as this frantic, the musicianship remains strangely focused.

Memorable moments are littered throughout the record. Think of the earworm folky leads or ever-echoing vocal lines in “Fly High”, the crazy bass soloing in “Prepare for Battle”, the dark ages nuthouse effects in “The Chemist”. In its relatively scarce runtime so many quirky ideas are thrown around at a blistering pace that could throw anybody into an epileptic fit. At times it does feel like the band is going to lose itself amongst the madness, but the sense of structure, be it an impulsive one, remains.

At a furious 28 minutes this nearly feels like a crossover or grindcore record in epic heavy metal clothing. Nonetheless is this scraping the barrel on what this classic gem has to offer. An underrated, brilliant example of enigmatic metal that can measure itself with the greatest the genre had to offer in the 80’s.

Originally written for

How Metal Can You Get? - 85%

brocashelm, December 31st, 2008

A cult band to be sure, Brocas Helm hailed from San Francisco, and did things in their own cryptically inclined manner. This manner meant composing battle ready battleaxe anthems in a style very much their own. Shades of Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol appear, but that’s more due the similarity Brocas Helm shares with other US bands doggedly insistent on forging their own style. This releases followed up the band’s hopelessly rare debut Into Battle, and was recorded on an 8 track machine, giving the prospective listener the heads up that this isn’t going to sound like a big budget deal. But that’s irrelevant, because what the Helm craft here is nothing less than some of the most unique US metal ever forged. Just dig the medieval melodies and proud structures that highlight the title cut and “Prepare For Battle,” the creepy vibe of “Hell’s Whip” and the Motorhead rythym of “Satan’s Prophets.” The regal “Fly High” is a power metal anthem brimming with excellence, while “The Chemist” is a queer and dark medieval jig of great atmosphere and feel. All of this is presented in a tough but melodic style led by guitarist and singer Bobbie Wright and armed with the voltage of a band loaded with enthusiasm and skill. A classic disc, this one was lost in the winds of time for ages but is now re-issued and ready for action. By the way, the band called their low-budget studio facility “The Caverns Of Thunder,” and “recorded under a haunted moon.” How metal can you get, man?

Merciful mayhem mixed by a blacksmith - 75%

Gutterscream, May 16th, 2005
Written based on this version: 1988, 12" vinyl, Gargoyle Records

This is easily one of the loopier releases of the year I graduated high school. Brocas Helm is a band with a moniker that always sounded South American in origin (like Holocausto, Tormenta, and Dorsal Atlantica) and with a production that is maybe a little less lousy than Sepultura’s first three releases. Actually, I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the production that it sounds like it was recorded in traffic or at the back of a meat packing plant. There’s this obscure cacophony throughout the album’s lifespan much like the intro to “Black Death”, weird muddled nuances that are almost industrial drawl that just cannot be part of the actual songwriting process, like it was recorded live on the side of a freeway in the rain and someone drove by with a radio blaring, maybe a long boom crane grumbling nearby, thunder, airplanes overhead, perhaps a timber mill just over yonder. Of course there’re varying levels of this stuff from song to song, most noticeable in “Hell’s Whip”, a song that would be quite impressive if it weren’t for the din of a recycling truck collecting this week’s glass in the background.

The four-piece’s sophomore effort comes many moons after their debut with label problems/lack of label interest seemingly the culprits, and since I haven’t had the luck of hearing the debut, I can only go on Abominatrix’s (ed. and now failsafeman's as well) review of Into Battle. With side one of Black Death, about 70% of the Maiden or Angel Witch semblance has either been frightened away or trapped in time, ‘cos this resembles more the coarse, blue collar stagger of Motorhead that only hints of Euro-metal gleam. Side two, on the other hand, is more awash in what the debut apparently shined with, but we’ll get to that.

After the minute long noise intro, “Black Death” rumbles to life with a riff Lemmy would shine his iron cross with, then with a heavier contention comes the rest of the song, albeit layered in disorder. Shards of N.M.E. clip my mind as each member seems in his own world of chaos, like toddlers all talking at the same time that somehow manage to keep the main topic in sight. Unlike the title cut, “Prepare for Battle” rings with a fairly tight, conjoined and odd vocal/music combo that Macabre comically rallies now and then (think “Trampled to Death”). Aside from the disharmony already described above, “Hell’s Whip” is actually a nifty power metal ditty, musically proficient with not-quite-falsetto vocals aiding the catchiness. “Satan’s Prophets” is a ruckus; a mean, greasy-handed roundhouse that just claws for the throat from the start, ending side two with jagged propulsion.

Side two bursts into “Fly High” and “Prophet’s Scream”, two songs that make no attempt at hiding the galloping, tight Maiden influence side one threw to a wind that wasn't so gallant and laudable. Essential solos aren’t skimped on, but the noisy backdrop that still hasn’t subsided erodes much of the fluency. An atypical keyboard and lightly played acoustic ensemble is “The Chemist”, suggesting a medieval inspiration like a band of peasants playing forlornly down at the river district. Uniting the smooth, talented Euro sound with a heavier, granular pace and a grunt’s attitude is “Fall of the Curtain”. Clean vocals are suffocated, sounding distant and almost whimsical, but why should the outrageous production show them clemency?

No doubt the abnormal affair that switches gears wildly, if not unevenly, and somehow reminds me of a concert pianist running a backhoe. Black Death has little place for white clouds of normalcy and predictability, and the poor schlub who bought this thinking in In Battle part two terms more than likely pawned it off on an enemy or the railroad tracks, but for the sheer malcontent of it all I’ll keep it around.