Tom Gabriel Fischer – Only Death is Real: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer and Early Celtic Frost 1981-1985

As death approaches, documentation increases. As a circle closes, individuals are given an oppurtunity to reflect on, track and document the meandering course that a society, individual or movement took and assess and re-evaluate this course to determine both its moments of strength and those of weakness. One consequence of this tracking and documentation is that the diligent and astute student of life is provided with an opportunity to discover those behavioural patterns that have been forged in the fires of history and are therefore conducive to success. The intelligent will reflect upon these lessons and apply them to their own worldview, life, ideology or movement and increase the quality, although not necessarily quantity of those lives. Therefore, we serious Hessians take the outpouring of heavy metal documentation rather serious, as it contains for the discerning, the lessons upon which the ideological, and perhaps spiritual foundation of a new spring, a new dawn and a new beginning for our culture may rest.

Heavy metal documentation has progressively reached new heights in this age of mass media as rabid fans, bands, and sociologists alike are taking it upon themselves to exploit available media outlets in order to document the rise and fall of extreme metal, an alienated cultural phenomenon, that unsurprisingly late is being treated with respect outside of the insular metal community. Along with the ideological documentation of Black Metal in the excellent documentary, Until the Light Takes Us, and the chronological presentation and thus preservation of the history of Swedish Death Metal in Daniel Ekeroth’s book of the same name, Hessians world wide are now being treated to an outpouring of band and album documentation in the form of DVD’s and texts exclusively dealing with important bands such as Asphyx and At the Gates, and seminal albums such as Reign in Blood.

To date, “Only Death is Real” by Tom Gabriel Fischer represents the apex of extreme metal texts. Appropriately prefaced, most notably by Darkthrone’s Nocturno Culto, this near-perfectly laid out, hardcover text book, is full of historical relevance for the aspiring and established Hessian and includes a bounty of interesting photos that shed light on the enigmatic and sometimes adolescently awkward manifestations of both Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost. The strategically arranged photos, intriguing and aptly chosen, are unsurprisingly monochromatic, and this combined with the enclosed paper quality, reveals a sense of aesthetic class and attention to detail becoming of the fastidious and perhaps benevolently pedantic, eccentric and inspiring personality of the authour. Additionally, the book contains a plethora of interviews with previous members of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, which at various junctures provide strange as well as enlightening anecdotes that augment the history of the band(s), and provide an otherwise unattainable depth to Fischer’s account. Given this, it seems somewhat surprising that this history reads as well as it does, as Fischer’s narrative, although periodically interrupted to include these interviews, remains clear.

As for the historical documentation itself, “Only Death is Real” retains a genuinely human tone that while undeniably revelatory does not diminish the mystical aura that surrounds both Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. In fact, throughout the text one senses an undeniable theme of mythic struggle as Fischer recounts the vast amount of turmoil, characteristically determined by some unforeseen variable, which plagued the establishment and development of both Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. We read with growing interest as the seeming omnipotent forces of dissolution strive to subdue and shackle the steely will of Fischer and his desire to create. Perhaps slightly melodramatic, the testaments of Fischer and others remain inspiring in the face of what Hellhammer and Celtic Frost would undoubtedly accomplish.

“Only Death is Real” is consequently rich in history and provides a level of historical depth perhaps unmatched in extreme metal literature. Developing chronologically from an account of Fischer’s childhood and his musical inspirations, to the establishment of his first band Grave Hill and beyond, readers are also provided with enlightening expositions on a variety of pertinent subjects. Such subjects include but are not limited to, the realities of Hessian life in Switzerland during the early 80’s, the meaning and inspiration for the name Celtic Frost and the conceptual considerations that went into the development of the band, Fischer and Eric Ain’s relationship with the works of H.R. Giger, and the critical and undeniable influence of Martin Eric Ain in the development and maturation of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost.

Fans are also provided with a chronologically precise account of the sometimes dizzying array of Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost releases, including exact track listings, facsimile demo and EP sleeves, the intriguing history surrounding the development of each release, and verbatim and oft-times hilariously slanderous copies of reviews of these releases. Obsessive fans can also rejoice as Fischer has included a complete visual account of the evolution of both the Celtic Frost and Helllhammer moniker, including copies of hand drawn rejections completed by band members themselves.

Overall, this history proves itself essential reading for anyone who takes extreme metal seriously. Fans can rejoice as we are provided with a comprehensive history of two bands that became cornerstones in the development of extreme metal. Any Hessian neophyte would do well to take this text seriously as it provides a great introduction to the personalities and music of a band whose clarity of vision, will and capacity to inspire, has left an indelible mark on countless bands and individuals. Perhaps now, in the midst of what appears to be a bourgeoning extreme metal renaissance, fans and musicians would do well to look back, find inspiration in, and relentlessly devour the lessons of our forefathers. In so doing we may overcome the progressive deterioration of extreme metal, usher in a new epoch and raise the flag of Hessiandom to new and unparalleled heights.

Written by TheWaters

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-25-10

Empyrean – Resurrection Engine: This is really one of the more musical things to cross my desk, but these guys are on heavy drugs if they think the audience for this genre will reward them. First they try to do some metalcore, which I’m now convinced is basically emo (an offshoot of hardcore, originally popularized by Fugazi, then becoming its own genre) with metal riffcraft: songs are three-riff, with one riff for verse, one for chorus, and one a melodic interlude that happens every third repetition of the others and can be expanded upon without moving the fret hand much. As a result, their straight-ahead songs have a very cookie-cutter sound; the band really shines when they take post-rock literally and make spacy ballads that are as much folk music or ambient in spirit as they are rock (think Agalloch), and are very removed from metal and doubly so from punk. When the band launches into this type of material, my ears perk up. It has been dumbed-down a bit for the high school audience, most of whom are still trying to decide whether to dedicate their suicide to a girl, or nuclear warfare. However, a great sense of harmony underlies these songs. I think the band should chuck all the metalcore/post-metal horseshit and just do what they do best, which is atmospheric folk post-rock like Hawkwind crossed with Laurie Anderson or Brian Eno. I say do it you boys because metalcore/emo-core is like all rock music a giant aggregation of styles, which ties you down with so many conventions that soon you’re just repeating cliches in “new, exciting” forms. Empyrean have a chance to break free. Do it.

Herpes – Doomsday: This band make facile doom/death with underscorings of punk, shadowing early work by Autopsy and Cianide. They like to launch into songs with rough skeletal riffs, then develop those with their most grind/punk-influenced verse riffs, and then rotate through variations on that theme before concluding with a circuitous “descending into the dungeon” style resonant doom riff. This makes for an engaging mixture: just hookish enough to lure you in, twisted and cryptographic enough to keep your attention, but mostly these old school death metal tunes just immerse you in a dark atmosphere and then let it soak in, saturating you in a morbidity and empty despair that mirrors the purposelessness of modern life. Some influences from modern metal appear in the riffing but not in the song structure or tempi. Percussion is excellent and to these ears sounds solidly in the Chris Reifert tradition, both energetic and holding back just enough to keep the sensation of being in the midst of a dirge. This 2010 demo portends a bright future for these French old schoolers.

Glaukom Synod – The Unspeakable Horror: The industrial/metal fusion has been attempted many times since the Killing Joke/Ministry/Godflesh triumvirate back in the late 1980s, and it rarely comes together as anything other than industrial music with random riffing. Glaukom Synod do better than that, setting up a form of droning EBM that takes the bounce and happy right out of its percussion not by eliminating swing but by hammering offbeats only as a secondary role to the abrupt rhythm of whatever sample or keyboard riff dominates even the drum machine. On the whole this is more on the Ministry side of things, with catchy beats and intermittent appearances by noisy guitars, but like many industrial projects has difficulty closing a song. Songs more than anything else just fade out, reminding this reviewer of the Godflesh reworking “Love and Hate in Dub” which was literally dub: sonic wallpaper that rotated past, gaining a little momentum each time, and then evaporated. It’s quite competent and makes for good listening if you like this range of styles.

Impureza – Inquisition – The demo years: If you like Nile, you’ll like Impureza, because they share an approach. Riffs are not fluid rapid motion using chords like notes in a melody, as occurs in death metal; riff development is not riffs counterpointing one another like a conversation that only makes sense after you’ve heard both parts, as in death metal. Instead, as with Nile, riffs are designed around a chord repeated at a particular rhythm with a few melodic offsets, more like progressive rock or guitar AOR (Rush) than death metal, but still quite musical — in fact, more conventionally recognizable as music. This album starts with classical-styled acoustic guitar and gradually integrates this grinding progressive indie death metal into the mix, then tears through over a dozen songs of high-intensity material. These songs are technical but not in the sense of “completely losing site of having a topic.” They’re a layer of technical on top of regular songwriting, which instead of distracting from the song fleshes it out and gives it more momentum. In a world of “technical death metal” that’s basically really repetitive, sweep-happy metalcore, Impureza is a refreshing blast of sanity.

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BLASPHERIAN and WAR MASTER free show Nov 20

BLASPHERIAN / WAR MASTER are playing at Sound Exchange on Saturday, November 20 and should start around 8:00 or 8:30. The show is free.

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DBC – Dead Brain Cells

The Canadian province of Québec seems to be situated upon some geographically freakish turf that exudes such a phenomenal electromagnetism as to twist and convolute whatever waveforms happen to waft into its borders. Psuedoscientific petrology aside, Dead Brain Cells are one such Canadian faction that reinterpreted the equatorial American sounds of skatethrash and reassembled its raw energy into a hyperborean bizzarerie, with an ambition in expressing the absurd crises symptomatic of a classically Huxleyan, oblivious society lured into the grip of an Orwellian tyranny by the mesmeric attractions of self-pleasure.

Taking aesthetic inspiration from the cruelly intelligent, modern firearms cacophony of Slayer’s ‘Chemical Warfare’ but fashioning riffs over the roguish, bursting structures typified by crossover acts Suicidal Tendencies and Corrosion of Conformity, Dead Brain Cells had paradoxically succeeded in applying scientific methods to truculent vandalism. Vocals, in compliment to the factorial churn and tumble of the instruments, are delivered in a robotic rant like the outcries of a citizen-turned-automaton denigrated by a lifetime of vacuous routine; lyrics are remarkably coherent and incisive considering the band’s Québécois nationality, of course with the mother tongue of French being a perennial obstacle for all aspiring Hessians allied under the fleur-de-lis. However, it is clear from DBC’s rather involved compositional style that their telos was not merely in writing protest music, but in establishing engaging, punkishly dynamic narratives such that every song is represented as its own vignette of dystopia — a sensibility that would be incorporated into the region’s burgeoning death metal movement, with vestiges apparent in such seminal works as Considered Dead and From This Day Forward.

This eponymous debut remains one of the exceptional examples of quality crossover thrash from outside of the U.S.A. and England; it’s also required listening for any avid scholars of Canadian death metal, in order to better understand the music’s gestation from heavy, quirky progressive rock to complex and sublimely dissonant killing noise.


A planet defaced with death and decay
An atmosphere of hate
Cities destroyed
Their meanings forgotten
And fertile lands lay waste
A planet once prosperous
Its future looked bright
But an immature race had evolved
Given time and the knowledge
They soon could destroy
The planet on which they revolved
 Not one life would be spared
It wouldn’t happen again
Because there is no second chance

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“The Egg” horror/sci-fi from “Until the Light Takes Us” team


A team of graduate students is working in an experimental science facility when the world goes silent. The people outside are either dead, or have vanished. The students and advisers have to figure out what’s happening before it’s too late. The longer it takes, the worse things get. The students are safe for now. But that’s about to change. Because something new has shown up, and it wants in.

Audrey and Aaron’s collaborative videos and installations have shown in galleries and museums in New York, Tokyo, and Europe. Their award-winning documentary about the black metal underground, “Until the Light Takes Us,” comes out on DVD this September:

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Save KTRU (91.7 FM)

Rice University plans to sell its radio station KTRU (91.7 FM). This would remove a rare source of local, independent, non-corporate radio programming. Secret negotiations excluded input from Rice students and alumni. KTRU, which was created independently of the university by students with alumni funding, was never funded by Rice and is only “owned” by the university through a technicality. Help us oppose this sale by following the simple steps on this page:

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