Saturday, March 2, 2013

Into the Void: Early EPs

Let's continue our journey through early black metal with a couple of EPs from 1984. One of the tricky things with this project is figuring out in what order albums were released. I'm using a combination of and to determine when an album came out. Often, Metal Archives will tell me the release to the day, but sometimes it will only give a month, or at worst, a year. If something only lists a year, I will attempt to place it in that year by whether any notes are available on when it was recorded. If I am completely unable to determine something, I'm just going to cover it at the end of the year, after those albums that I have dates for.

Hellhammer - Apocalyptic Raids EP (March, 1984)

Hellhammer's work is not quite as famous as that other Tom G. Warrior band that soon tooks its place—Celtic Frost. But Hellhammer was undoubtedly an influence on the early black metal scene, so we'll cover it here. Apocalyptic Raids is the only official release of the Swiss trio, but they did have two tape demos that they released in 1983. If you like truly lo-fi recordings, you ought to check those out. Interestingly, on the demos, the band members identified themselves as "Satanic Slaughter," "Savage Damage," and "Bloodhunter," but by the release of Apocalyptic Raids, they had (mostly) adopted more normal names (Tom Fischer went by Tom G. Warrior, which is admitedly a stage name, but Bruce Day went by Denial Fiend).

So what about the music? Well, it's heavy, and extreme, but it's not quite black metal. What is it? I don't know. It's not exactly music that you can put an easy and comfortable label on. You can definitely hear elements that influenced all the extreme music that came after, from death to doom to black metal. My guess is that the biggest influence on black metal was simply the lo-fi, stripped down sound. The guitars are a bit muddy, but have that identifiable Tom G. Warrior sound. The lyrics are violent and the vocals are rough. In "Triumph of Death," especially, Tom lets loose with some real howls that hint at the vocal carnage that is yet to come into the scene. Unlike Celtic Frost, Hellhammer really has that "three kids just fooling around" vibe to it. It's the sort of thing that can make you say "I could do something like that. I will do something like that," and I think that vibe would particularly hold true for the demos.

Final Verdict: This is sloppy, organic music. It's the real shit. But it's not black metal.


Sodom - In the Sign of Evil (May, 1984)

Now here's something that's really starting to sound like black metal. It's the third band we've looked at, and the third power-trio. Like in Venom, the bassist also handles vocal duties, and, like in Venom, they adopt amusing pseudonyms—Angel Ripper, Grave Violator, and Witchhunter to be precise. The vocals have become much less understandable, and the tempos are speeding along. The seeds for thrash and black metal are here in about equal parts. We hear D-beats instead of the blasts that would come to define the scene, but we've got tremolo guitars and harsh vocals.

The vocals are hilariously difficult to distinguish. I won't even bother making a list of the things that I thought that I heard him sing, but let's just say that I thought that "Witching Metal" was about Doctor Who. Nevertheless, occult lyrical themes are essential. The stand-out track is clearly "Blasphemer," with the opening lyric "Black metal is the game that I play," which clearly self-identifies as black metal, even though I think that particular song has the strongest thrash sound on the EP. I think it's fair to call this 19 minute album the first proper black metal release. Sodom would, of course, go on to become a fantastic thrash band and influence death metal as well. But for now, these crazy Germans were the crest of the first wave.

Final Verdict: 5/10 - a little sloppy, plenty raw, and arguably the first

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