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Thorsten Bergmann fanclub - 85%

Acrobat, February 14th, 2016
Written based on this version: 1987, 12" vinyl, Aaarrg Records

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).