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Split The Flesh - 84%

OzzyApu, January 9th, 2010

While far from real death metal, this split does have a small place in history as being the main teaser for the central European heavy metal scene. Running Wild still played raw speed / heavy, Hellhammer were getting it on with their thrash / black style, and Helloween themselves also weren’t entirely power metal at this point. Dark Avenger disbanded sometime after this split, but their contribution hasn’t been forgotten.

Running Wild
Both of Running Wild’s songs have some groovy riffs in the heart of a low-budget dungeon - great way to start off the split and showing the band at a more unprocessed stage than the debut. The uncooked guitar tone plays the early Iron Maiden card by dashing forward regardless of how clean and neat it sounds. The vibe settles with the grumbly bass sticking around despite the charred, demo-like quality and some sloppy playing. “Bone To Ashes” really slays in the rhythm department, thanks in no small part to the consistent drumming and synchronized-headbangable riff.

The atmosphere alone with these two tracks move away from the satanic themes, instead opting for a zombie-themed after-school extravaganza! Rolf doesn’t show too much range aside from rare Halford-like wails; get used to his deep talking with a hint of whining. It works for the tone at hand, but anywhere else and these vocals would be ganged up on. “Bones To Ashes” does drag on a little longer than necessary – the longest song on the split, in fact, though the solo at the end does make up for that extra minute or so of waiting.

Tom keeps his vocals above the guitars, which mange to run amok with a menacing attitude; a very grimy, hopeless tone without a sight of light. “Messiah” is really impressive in this department – tortured, hapless riffs with Tom letting out some deafening yells and growls in the distance. God damn, thrash like this is unmatched in heaviness – despondent atmosphere with a vociferous bass playing from Martin. You can hardly make out the lines, but the tone is what really makes these tracks the hideous and scariest ones this split has to offer.

Drumming for “Revelation Of Doom” (Gorgoroth, anyone?) is louder than “Messiah,” but all it consists of is steady cymbal bashing. It gets annoying and drowns out the snare hits a little, which are ripe for the production (poor compared to Running Wild’s job). The double bass is horrendous – like stomping your foot on a carpet while sitting down. Considering the options at the time, it’s hard to get worked up over it, especially in view of how these two tracks reek of death, decay, and malevolence.

Dark Avenger
This band has almost no history – only a couple recognized releases before splitting up shortly after, but their recordings shouldn’t go entirely unnoticed. Between all the bands on here, I’m most surprised by this group. The vocals belong to hard rock, as they’re very “out there” like Glenn Danzig. The music itself crosses between Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden – really addicting stuff with killer riff attacks and a snarling bass. Drums gallop with great use of double bass steps and a “bite-and-hold” snare / cymbal tactic. “Lords Of The Night” show everyone working together to deliver an incredibly ambitious track backed by a solo bridge that kicks this split’s ass.

Hellhammer has the atmosphere, Running Wild has the grooves, and Helloween yuck it up with the vocals, but Dark Avenger nails everything down like crazy. I’m not too gung ho about “Black Fairies” as the lyrics are incredibly cheesy (considering how over-the-top the vocals are, too) – these vocals just sound so awkward, but they somehow work regardless of the miscomputation. They aren’t operatic or deep grunts, but nasally talking / yelling with an accent that’s impossible to pinpoint.

Helloween compete primarily against Dark Avenger for the best solo bridge, but it’s a tough call. “Oernst Of Life” is a hectic, cut-throat speed metal track with Kai Hansen wailing in the distance like some tyrant. A creepy track that’s made less creepy by the wave-like riffs crashing against everything that isn’t wet. The drums are insanely heavy for such an early recording – they’re not thumping or up-front, but the cymbal / snare / drum bass hit just packs a punch right to the senses. The recording quality is tighter than Dark Avenger but less clear than Running Wild; the band is the fastest of all four, though. Hansen of all is the highest of all four vocalists featured on the split – nobody on here can top his stratosphere-screams.

There’s no fluffiness to be found with Helloween, which is just how I like my speed / heavy metal. Between the riffs and the vocals, there’s no room for child’s play around here. Gimmicks are one thing, but the tone is very serious, no matter how high Hansen can go with those vocals – and he’s singing in the distance! Bass is hardly there compared to the other three bands, even though you can just hear it criss-crossing with the riffs.

Hellhammer and Helloween both have their sound together moreso than the other two bands in the sense that they’d be continually maturing these two sounds. Hellhammer would of course disband and become Celtic Frost before maturing their sound (and then ditching it for a second) while Helloween honed their speed metal endeavors before digging into power metal. Dark Avenger had something going here but never got out of the cubicle while Running Wild would drastically change their sound from raw heavy metal to epic, regal heavy / power metal that remains a testament to Germans everywhere. From here you can venture off into three of these bands’ careers and find some damn good material. These starter tracks are acceptable, but when these old dogs learn new tricks, they’re usually better.