Hellhammer Discography Overview

Our tribute to Hellhammer is more than a recognition of their historical importance. Rather, we understand the relevance of Hellhammer as one artistic, in terms of the development of the craft of metal, and as the time-less place of several of their compositions. In general, we can hear the band’s material broken in two directions: one is the temporal rock n’ roll influence, and the other a hint of madness, an intrusion of the unknown into the mind of Tom G. Warrior especially. It is the exploration of this unknown side that brought forth what makes Hellhammer the realization of underground metal as music, not simply as idea or as a ‘social’ movement or a ‘sub/counter’ culture. The latter two are temporal, and ultimately just by-products. What concerns us here is the dark side channeled, the a-/supra- temporal, the in-human and the un-humane making headway unbeknownst and not fully understood by the artists themselves.
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Why Hellhammer’s Satanic Rites is possibly the most important metal record ever made

hellhammer-satanic_ritesMost people place the birth of black and death metal somewhere between Venom’s first album Welcome to Hell (1981) and Bathory’s third full-length Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987). The exact moment of divergence from ancestors depends on the speaker’s level of metal puritanism and their favorite albums are from that era, and can sometimes seem a trivial dichotomy. Moot though it may be, my pick for the first discernible piece of death/black metal music is also, more importantly, the moment at which metal realizes it can be more than just warmed-over rock music.

Tom Warrior and co will forever be canonised in the metal pantheon for the early Hellhammer and Celtic Frost releases, which collectively shaped the sound of metal in a way that is only really matched by Slayer (who were probably influenced by Hellhammer in their change of sound between Show no Mercy and Haunting the Chapel). The first couple of Hellhammer demos however were only really third rate crust punk/Venom rip off played by three young guys who didn’t really know what they were doing. With the third demo and the introduction of Martin Ain to the writing team though, Hellhammer began introducing ideas that weren’t immediately noticed or appreciated by the rest of the world, prompting the band to less than twelve months later reconstitute itself as Celtic Frost and spend most of the next three decades trying to bury the Hellhammer name and the material associated with it.

Many of the tracks on Satanic Rites are in much the same vein as the first two demos, although better played and with greater surety about the morbid chromatic rock riffs. However, with “Buried and Forgotten,” and to a slightly lesser extent “Triumph of Death,” there is a real ‘eureka’ moment. Verse-chorus-verse, single groove writing gives way to longer structures that piece together like musical jigsaw puzzles, reminiscent of the best moments of Black Sabbath made more twisted and involving. The grimmer, more elemental, less blues-rocky riffs of Hellhammer also hint at emergent melodic shapes, whose detail unfurls piecemeal over the course of the track.

“Buried and Forgotten” for a little over two and half minutes builds one riff atop another towards an emotional plateau, each one referencing some element (however small) of the one that preceded it. The rest of the track then recombines and repeats all the material amassed over the course of the opening part, changing the order of and implied relationship between riffs. All except one slightly dodgy contrasting riff towards the end (which stands out by a mile), is built out of the same basic pool of ideas, and so each can be moved about and fit back together again as they are and create a neat, logical song structure.

This streamlined song-writing mentality also filters down quite brilliantly into the track “Messiah,” which is probably the most well-known, heavily covered Hellhammer song, and a borderline genius exercise in metal song-writing fundamentalism. Effectively the entire song is crafted out of one interval (the space between two notes, denoting their relationship to each other): a minor 2nd (or semitone), the smallest interval in regular Western music. Everything from the ponderous two-note verse riff, to the creeping chorus motif of four descending consecutive semitones, to the brief bridge section made up of the same rumbling low E that drives the verse and a major 7th above that (which, deceptively, is just an inversion of a minor 2nd, and so basically the same note relationship as nearly everything that has come before it in the song).

All of a sudden the focus shifted from form (and the resulting dramatic arc it creates) as something that comes from solely juxtaposing contrasting elements, to something that can grow out of only a tiny number of ideas, and through clever variation and development can became something much more journey-like. This makes this music unlike rock, jazz and more recent false-metal, and more like a Beethoven symphony or a Bach fugue. Needless to say, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Hellhammer is equal to the work of Bach. What I am saying however is that both classical music and the more inspired moments of this demo proceed from a similar sort of underlying sense of elegance in developing things methodically out of smaller details into bigger, consistent ideas.

The version of “Triumph of Death” on this demo is inferior to the one on Apocalyptic Raids (which has, surely, one of the greatest metal vocal performances anywhere, ever) and as far as Celtic Frost/Hellhamer goes my favourite work is probably To Mega Therion. Still, it’s hard to understate just how important this demo and the ideas it set in motion are to all of the metal that has followed it. Underground metal not only became scarier, heavier and less po-faced after Hellhammer, but from this demo (and the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer works that followed it) metal inherited a paradigm that enabled the construction of more complex, distinctive songs and would come to define underground metal.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsJ1I1cL_NY

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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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The One – I, Master (2008)

Hailing from Rhodes, The One is a black metal project by the mastermind behind Macabre Omen, who, alongside Varathron, have been the most consistent artists in the Hellenic scene during the past few years. The One performs a style of black metal that draws from various influences such as Mayhem, Hellhammer and Bathory, yet it is filtered through the Hellenic prism of longer melodies and warm, ritual atmosphere.

This sound is shaped by multiple layers of guitars and distortion. The ensuing disorienting atmosphere resembles a maelstrom in the river Acheron, sucking the listener inside. Indeed, it feels like this was recorded in a cave; in the same way that subterranean noises can be distorted due to echo, the guitar parts are blended into each other, rendering the act of discerning riffs difficult at certain points. This is a great case-study in modern black metal production, because it helps the riffs hide on the first listen, in order to reappear on the next.

Following the title of the album, the senses are guided from freshly dug graveyard soil to the nebulous regions of the sky, so that through death and a confrontation with the violent forces that sleep in man, a feeling of mastery may be conveyed. The tools with which The One is trying to impose this effect upon the listener are chromatic riffs inspired by Hellhammer that provoke cyclopean headbanging and excellent vocal invocations to Mayhem. Truly, the vocals are resourceful and employ a wide pallete of techniques. The locomotive guitar parts taken from Mayhem lead to cryptic orientalist melancholic riffs in the style of Macabre Omen.

A natural mood pervades the compositions, in the sense that changes happen when they have to; nothing is rushed and there is room for the riffs to breath. They rarely outstay their welcome as they flow into the next riff. However, chromatics are used not to liberate the composer, but to evoke claustrophobia, thus there is not much harmonic movement going on, similarly to church and folk music. This fact interestingly tends to increase the value of such movements when they happen.

The listener has to meditate on the sonic violence, for things that hide and appear on the third listening session. Even the guitar solo which imitates Euronymous can be mistaken as a traditional pipe instrument for a few seconds because of the sound and bending technique employed. Proceeding from the Heracletian philosophical foundations that “All is One”, Byzantine chants, melodies and vocals are chocked in the midst of chaos and appear as a homogenous mixture that propels the song onwards. This atmosphere is very ritualistic and the compositions move with uniformity to reach the epilogue of the record.

For all the talent of its creators, I, Master might pose a few drawbacks on the more experienced listener. To begin with, due to the hiding of the riffs and all the finer details it appears that the album doesn’t want to be noticed. Verily, the hooks of the record are the noisier parts which rely on the listener’s curiosity, like a puzzle. Unlike Aosoth’s early work and other Greek bands, this release is more tempered and doesn’t aim for direct impact. This is not a drawback per se, as it is a really interesting approach to keep the uninitiated listeners away and is in alignment with the spirit of black metal.

The second danger, is that this record belongs to the tradition of occult black metal, which is often dominated by monotonous attempts to resemble a liturgy and subsequently the release flirts with wallpaper aesthetics. However, The One manages to navigate through those reefs by channeling quality melodies and intriguing vocal performances into the mixture, thus keeping the attention of the listener throughout the record.

Therefore, the degree to which The One falls on the above trappings is subjective and depends on the attention span of the listener. An equal case can be drawn for experimental doom rock band Universe 217, which creates a parallel cosmic vibe which escapes post-rock monotony through possessed Janis Joplin vocals and intricate 12-chord riffs that channel emotion so that the composition can move somewhere else. In general, when monotony may infiltrate a composition, a great riff and some fine details can save the day. As Ildjarn demonstrates, passionate performance stands above all and passionate performance stems from passionate composition, which in term depends on the artist’s intention. The One’s intention cannot be disputed.

In fact, the whole record has a personal dimension for many reasons; first of all, the “I” in the title; second, enigmatic whispers on the final track suggest the importance of “creating” for the artist; third, Macabre Omen has already taken a personal tragedy and projected it into historical events, in Gods of War. Therefore, there is a tendency of projecting the personal into the universal, which might account for some addictive elements in the record that assure its replay value. In addition, there is an emphasis on individualism, that can be also witnessed on the early days of the band.

To sum up, this album highlights:

  • How to create a dense cryptic atmosphere without becoming a sonic wallpaper.
  • How to use the asphyxiating production to hide messages, like a grimoire or an ancient artifact.
  • The importance of blood and/or culture, since The One is definitely inspired by the folklore, religion and traditional music of his country on the catchier passages, making those possibly unfitting influences sound honest, true and convincing, because they have been experienced.

However, the strongest part of the record is the translation of its philosophical underpinnings into music. A cosmic ambience resides on some tracks, a vibe of some greater universal force that drowns the individual and helps him reach his potential at the same time. An example where The One flirts with this ambience is on song V, which unleashes a Burzum interpretation of doomy ambience and contains a long melodic riff that covers “Temples in the Shape of the Sky” by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. This riff is the high point of the record and hints at a possible ascension, a sort of spiritual illumination.

What is tragic is that when this theosis is attained, there is no escape into the great beyond. The song falls back to the Earth, back into the previous slow stratospheric riff.

This is exactly where The One and good black metal in general differs from the so called ritualistic, occult or “Orthodox” varieties: spirituality is acknowledged yet it complements the Earth and cannot be conceived without the Earth. After all, metal is not about escaping, it is about consecrating reality. The return to this previous riff may feel sad and definitely makes one hunger for more. However, it also creates a feeling of strength over reality, strength gained through experience and understanding. The listener was dominated by the music throughout, but now a sense of mastery is communicated. Albeit tragic, this can feel beautiful and the aim of The One is achieved.

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A first step: MMXVIII eh

A triumphant first month has just elapsed, and our current team has been able to capitalize on all the effort and work that Brock Dorsey put introducing and maintaining a more structured internal protocol. By now, besides reviews focused on excellence and constructive highlighting, we have designed different series of articles, with more technical and didactic material in the works to propagate the know-how and philosophy for a dark artistry, rather than musical entertainment or sportsmanship.
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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Write Good Riffs Or Die Edition

Article by Salustiano Ferdinand

I was listening to Persecution Mania yesterday when I opened my email and saw some new releases thrown my way to sift through for potential reviews. Although I’m generally skeptical of newer metal releases, the Shadows in the Crypt album was a pleasant and recent surprise, so I figured why not.
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The Craft of Metal #1: Satanic Rites —Part II

Form and Function

Musical innovation does not spawn independently. Most of the progressions in underground metal have taken stylistic influence from more accessible genres and within those aural parameters created a new foundational narrative to divorce the context from the aesthetics it had previously used as a guideline. This approach allows for a less jarring immersion into a musical journey while at the same time utilizing tropes of superficial familiarity to manipulate the audience into being subjugated to an indirect path towards the artistic catharsis of unique expression that is the spiritual negative of the aesthetics used. On Satanic Rites, we can observe how Hellhammer has utilized the foundation of punk rock to shape their sound while introducing a unique tonality and dynamic scope to flesh out the beginnings of a new musical genre.
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The Craft of Metal #1: Satanic Rites —Part I

Satanic Rites is one of the early influences that would take the heavy metal and hardcore punk of the past and transform it into Extreme metal through some groundbreaking compositional tools that were unheard of at the time. On first listens, the music can be confused for many other bands due to the impact this record had in its time, and rightfully so as it serves as an excellent introduction to what metal would have perfected on a much larger scale a decade later.
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