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Fond memories of frostbitten warfare - 93%

esgargarothoth, January 17th, 2014

When the aptly named Warhammer, hailing from the North-Rhine, Westphalia, released “The Winter of our Discontent”, for a minute or two, all of us, old troopers, felt confused and surprised – there it was, a record that left absolutely nothing to the imagination of those in (long) mourn... Coined from the same unholy European molten metal that had found its source not inside the safes of Swiss banks, and rather in the cold rural outskirts of Zurich, Warhammer’s brand of rumble blackened-death-metal conveyed that very “denial fiendishness” that characterized Hellhammer, sounding astonishingly alike. German bands are renowned for doing things their way, often amounting to excellent results, not giving too much importance to what the press and “holier-than-thou” intelligentsias might say (partly, a sign of professionalism...), and so did Warhammer. If the country had managed to put out Sodom/Kreator/Destruction/Deathrow on the death-thrash map, so would this German purist black-death-thrasher of a trio make their claim to ‘Hammer’s abandoned sceptre, as a non-assuming dead-serious tribute, re-creating the aura of the old true cult.

"The Winter of Our Discontent" is a 39-minute elegy to the empty skull-throne chambers, while the “big Orc-music” plays in the backdrop. If, for Tom G. Warrior, the fantasy dark side of early Hellhammer/Celtic Frost was contemporary with obscure “power-metal-ironsmiths” like Cirith Ungol and Aragorn, plus Venom’s viciousness and the odd cinematic cue-lines from Arnie’s “Conan the Barbarian” role model, Warhammer, on their part, only had the “new tales” of Middle Earth as “recounted” by Count Varg (with Peter Jackson’s take on “The Ring” saga still 3 years ahead), as a far-fetched remote reference, thus being there hardly any common ground for such mythological connections, in their (pretty grim) worldview.

By 1997/98, let us be honest, goddamn fantasy had taken over black metal and too many keyboard frills, fairies, elves, trolls and dragons, crowded every single album and cover, this side of the shire... Warhammer (a great tribute name, from here to Cimmeria) opened their way with a deadpan face, not fancying any kind of joke that could be made about the fact they were re-enacting the rotten corpse of a past glory, not just playing any pseudo-barbarian Hyborian Age RPG. The apocalyptic exhumers were welcome overnight, amidst the underground metal followers, for their bravado - everywhere, the album with the Shakespearean quote for a title was getting encouraging reviews, being the talk of the town and receiving the horns-up sign of approval from the said pining back-patch militia.

One surprise, though, was to be met as one read the lyrical contents of tracks like “Beyond forgiveness”, “Damned to extinction”, “The shape of the enemy”, “Warzone”, ...and on and on, in perfect listing order. Gone was good old Satanic Slaughter’s nasty philosophical horror tales and welcomed were Volker’s socially and politically aware manifestos, brought forth with undeniable vehemence and canon Hellhammer verve - a difference which would probably take time to be traced down, so sartorial was Frank’s guitar delivery, an agonizing dirge of down spiralling furious overdrive, in the purest HH’s Tradition, not to mention Rolf Meyn’s impeccable drum pounding. It became obvious for vocalist Volker Frerich and guitarist Frank ["Slayed Necros the 2nd"] Krynojewski that they had to extend what some considered a momentary joke, and that was the part which wasn't at all easy or “funny”, for that matter. Warhammer had a life of their own, not just another clone band.

"The Winter of Our Discontent" (a smashing refined title!) bears strong resemblance with "Apocalyptic Raids" indeed, starting with the sleeve, an incredibly talented ersatz, with the Hammer's Samael crucified on a witchy cross of Lorraine, by a gloomy Winter's oak . Guess who the author was? Yup, Slayed Necros the 2nd - exactly following Martin Eric Ain's style. Sleeve detail “coincidences” apart, it is a redundant overstatement to say they sounded exactly like HH - they didn't. There's a double-edged mood to this listening - the one in which you prick up your ears at the heartfelt exquisite mimetic exercise, and the second, as you are left jaw-dropped at the moments when, though sounding close to HH, they produce remarkable musical prowess. There, you can spot various “positive flaws”, which would later evolve into Warhammer's blueprints, on albums like "Deathchrist" or their best "The Doom Messiah". In fact one must assume that most “slightly revivalist” bands have often tried out their best to hide their actual competence, in order to accomplish their cultist goals, occasionally leaving involuntary hints of their skills in between the lines...

In a scale of 10, the drum sound must be at least two levels above the one Horst Mueller captured with the Swiss trio, that fateful week of March '84, at Berlin's haunted Caet Studios; its crispy cadence is almost athletical, unlike the slightly awkward, muffled, fiendish, bone-breaking skin-rattle of the young and muscular Bruce "Denial fiend" Day; Volker's vocals do closely match that early Tom Gabriel Fischer’s regurgitated grunt that became his trademark, yet sounding a trifle more perceptible and ...uh...articulate. Apart from this, the guitar sound is an absolute win, especially as Frank goes soloing on half-tones with an expressive mathematical passion and then rebuilds the musical phrasing with rhythmic bridges that reek of "Massacra" and "The 3rd of the Storms", emulating HH's compelling guitar-sound to a paroxysmal frenzy of perfection.

Consequently, neglecting Frank's lyrical power and careful word-smithing is like ignoring HH/CF avant-garde liaison and believing Tom GW's idiomatic “slaughter” was absolutely natural! There's a favourite of ours on Warhammer's musical equivalent to "The Triumph of Death", "Devastation of silent resistance": "Follow the journey up the stream of madness, enter a world of misty and unbalance tragic; leave behind your certain, miserable existence, and sagacity will greet you in the cruelest of forms" – Frank at his best, borrowing Herr Fischer and HP Lovecraft a little inspiration and abiding to the sacrosanct “faux” lexical awkwardness.

Were this a 20-minute mini-album, playing on 33/45 rpm, with "Beyond Forgiveness", "Damned to extinction", "The shape of the enemy" and the aforementioned "Devastation of silent resistance" in the listing, and the punch line would have been served even colder and frostier than this Euro-Union Winter of citizens discontent – it would have delivered the exact replica from the dark seed that spawned an entire metal genre, like a new rebirth in line.

Some may argue that what was at stake there, was the preservation of a memory, not unlike "The Quest for Fire" flick, with generations of torchbearers eager and bound to succumb to successive (critics) attacks and to fall down on battleground – their quest for Tradition had a name: Hellhammer. As for Warhammer, if you have followed their story, this early incarnation is gone, so it is to them I dedicate this review - they indeed deserved the worldwide Hellhammer's fan base approval, but one mustn't forget that time has taken its toll and that it’s been now nearly 30 years since the event that marked at least 3 metal-head generations.

Warhammer’s music, not unlike their ancestral “avant-garde originators”, remains in the heart, as well as in the brain, of many thousands, as a brooding manifesto against the "imposters for all times". It’s not a case of the disciples erasing the masters from view – it’s more like both have stood the test of time, in winters to remember. I really don’t want to sound too nostalgic about it but, bearing in mind that this album was out 15 years ago and that this very same year there might be worldwide celebrations of the release of “Apocalyptic Raids”, it would be nice to start the hostilities not with Tchaikovsky’s Overture 1812, right?...