Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Healing Power Of Metal

Halloween 2006

This has been a weird and stressful time for Umlaut and Skychick, with a dark cloud of bullshit hanging over Casa de Umlaut for the entire year. Thankfully, the sun finally broke through and the sword of justice smote our enemy upon the ruins (or something like that). However, despite this victory, our world is a changed place.

As a reaction to the chaos swirling around me, I religiously embraced Metal again because it gave me comfort in these dark times. Metal is familiar and it served the same purpose when I was a weird and stressed teenager. I don't know what other dudes my age do when their lives become weird and stressed (God? Golf? Hookers?), but it was cool that I could find solace in something "normal people" can't comprehend and that's not self-destructive (unless I want my soul to go to Heaven of course): The Healing Power of Metal.

The Healing Power Of Metal wasn't simply listening to the music; it also included many ironic and positive events that happened to me this year. Most of these events have been chronicled in this space and they all had one thing in common: METAL. Events such as this one:

A year ago my Mom gave me a box of crap she'd collected from my old bedroom at my parents' house; I stuck it up in the attic and forgot about it. Last weekend I was looking for our Halloween decorations and came across the box and finally opened it. Most of the contents were trivial, but there was also a strangely familiar blue folder. On the cover was a late-70's / early-80's decal from local Rock radio station KSJO (R.I.P.). When I opened the folder I almost screamed like King Diamond.

Inside the blue folder was pure gold: The original layouts for Issue #1 of my Metal fanzine Whiplash, which I thought were long gone. Also inside were notes and typed articles that had been intended for the ill-fated Issue #2 that was never published. There were also some vintage live photos that penpals had sent me of Metallica, Randy Rhoads, and Lemmy amongst others. It was like finding my own personal Ark of the Covenant.

Sidebar: Other mom's would have chucked this stuff in the trash, but not my mommy - THANKS MOM! It almost makes me forgive her for making my original Mercyful Fate shirt "disappear" back in The Day...

One of the lost articles in the folder was a piece I wrote about a Swiss band called Hellhammer. For the newbies: Members of Hellhammer subsequently formed the legendary Metal band Celtic Frost, whose resurrection was one of the high points for me this year. Celtic Frost 2006 + Finding This Article = The Healing Power Of Metal!

Judging from the dates in the article, I wrote it in early-1984 and I have a vague memory that the band sent me their demo tapes after they'd read a copy of Whiplash #1. Because they had made the effort, I felt obligated to write something positive about the band eventhough they sounded so primitive to me.  Hellhammer were ahead of their time and my ears weren't quite there yet.

I'm rather gobsmacked how relatively focused my writing was back in those salad days... Especially since any reader of this space knows that I tend to rant and meander now in my old age. I'm also struck that my sense of humor about Metal had already developed eventhough I was still a fanatically dogmatic 20-year old who lived and bled Metal 24/7.

On a historical note, it's interesting how the cross breeding of Punk and Metal was already being acknowledged in the underground scene eventhough the Punk / Metal crossover "officially" was still a good 2 years away. Also, how can you not love the band's personal aliases!?

I must also mention that had Whiplash #2 been published we could have been the first Stateside Metal publication to cover Hellhammer / Tom Warrior / Martin Ain. Alas, what could have been.... Anyway, enjoy this trip down Old Metal Memory Lane.

Your's In Metal,
Brian Umlaut (alias "Flayed Obliteration")


Switzerland is the home of the appropriately named HELLHAMMER, one of those rare bands that come along now and then to enrich society. Originally called HAMMERHEAD, the band was formed in May, 1982 by Tom Warrior (alias "Satanic Slaughter") along with his brother Steve (alias "Savage Damage") and Grave Hill, who was sacked shortly afterwards.

During the first months the lineup continued with Pete Smith (alias "Bloodhunter") on drums, but according to the band he wasn't good enough, so he was replaced in November, 1982 by Bruce Day (ex-MOORHEAD), alias "Denial Fiend". More recently, HELLHAMMER underwent another facelift as Steve Warrior was replaced by Martin Ain (ex-SCHIZO), who goes by the alias of "Slayed Necros".

Although the band lists their influences as VENOM, ANGEL WITCH, RAVEN, and EXCITER, their sound can easily be defined as a cross between VENOM and those punk / metal fiends THE MENTORS (What a hybrid!)! In June, 1983 HELLHAMMER recorded their first demo, which turned out very badly and was never released. This abortion was followed closely by the "Triumph Of Death" 13-song cassette. As a result of some terrible production, a casual listen comes across as an earful of rumbling incoherency. Still, those with patience enough to listen to the tape will find tracks like "Maniac", "Reaper", "Power Of Satan", and "When Hell Is Near" promising. If the songs themselves are forgettable, their titles are certainly classics: "Decapitator", "Blood Insanity", "Death Fiend", "Ready For Slaughter" to name a few. Excellent stuff - right out of a Herschell Lewis Film Festival! Too bad the music doesn't quite live up....

Mercifully, HELLHAMMER were able to return to the studio in late-'83, which resulted in their third demo, "Satanic Rites". This tape is a definate improvement over the previous one, and features new versions of "Triumph Of Death", "Maniac", and "Crucifixion". The production is much better as well, although you still can't understand a word Mr. Warrior is saying and absolutely no bottom end is present (Why have a bass player if you can't hear him???). All qualms aside though, the three "re-done" tunes plus the five new ones
[Editor's Note: This sentence is incomplete, its conclusion lost in the fog of time..]

HELLHAMMER is punk / metal, no doubt about it. Along with such tried and true masters as DISCHARGE, G.B.H., and THE ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE, they fall into that "no man's land" which lies between Punk and Heavy Metal. These Swiss maniacs are not something you'd listen to all the time, but their [sic] fun as hell to thrash to when the situation arises! The so-called "proper" headbangers will hate this band, but they'll have the Top-40 "heaviness" of QUIET RIOT, DEF LEPPARD, VAN HALEN, et. al. to dance along with. But for all you militant bangers out there, give HELLHAMMER a listen! The musicianship is pretty pedestrian, but with this band, musical competency is sacrificed for brute power! VENOM are still #1, but if you don't want to overkill on Chronos & Co., HELLHAMMER should fit right into your playlist.

You can summon the band by sacrificing a virgin or a suitable farm animal and chanting the following verse:

P.O. Box 12
CH-8309 Nurensdorf

Or, if you're the squemish type, just write the same verse on an envelope (Red ink will suffice...) and let the postman take care of the rest.

I returned to the attic and found one of the Hellhammer demo tapes I received back in 1984 (Demo #2 = "The Triumph Of Death" recording). I can safely say I hadn't listened to this cassette since 1984-85.

As I listened to the tape for the first time in at least 22 years several thoughts came to mind:

  • The recording sounds like crap... but that's how demo tapes sounded back in the days before digital technology and home computers. In my old age I find the crappy sound charming and endearing.
  • I have no idea why I compared Hellhammer to The Mentors back in 1984.
  • It's interesting to hear the embryonic version of Tom Warrior's trademark vocals and guitar style that he perfected with Celtic Frost.
To quote Celtic Frost (from the song 'Return To The Eve'): "Could I ever return, it would be doom, obsessed by the nightmare's sound..."

Indeed, I can return... again and again. Never underestimate the Healing Power Of Metal.

Updated on 2/13/08:

From the Celtic Frost web site:

With the release of "Demon Entrails" on February 18th in Europe and February 26th in the U.S., the days of numerous sub-standard bootlegs of the classic Hellhammer demos - "Death Fiend", "Triumph of Death" and "Satanic Rites" - are finally over! "Demon Entrails" will also be available as an opulent oversized double CD media-book packaging and as a gatefold triple vinyl album. Both versions will feature a lavish booklet and a poster. A bare-bones lower-price CD version will be available.

To celebrate this pinnacle release, the official "Demon Entrails" microsite has been launched at www.demonentrails.com. Fans can pre-order all three versions at a special price for a limited time only. The site also features album cover art and complete track listings.

"Demon Entrails" has been specially re-mastered from copies of the original master tapes under the supervision of founder Tom Gabriel Fischer, and the demos now represent Hellhammer exactly as the band sounded when recording these songs in June and December of 1983. Drawing from a wealth of previously unknown historical liner-notes, material and artwork, as well as plenty of unreleased Hellhammer photos from 1982 to 1984, "Demon Entrails" features all lyrics and essays detailing the individual demo recording sessions.