Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tormentor - Anno Domini (1988)

Tormentor was formed in 1986, in Hungary, among the first Black Metal bands of the 1980s. In the mid to late 80s, Tormentor had a lot of famous gigs in Hungary. After the first demo The Seventh Day of Doom (1987) the band had more and more attention. Then, in 1988, they recorded Anno Domini which was definitely a highlight of the extreme metal scene at the time.

For many reasons (e.g. old political system, censorship, state dependent labels) it was impossible to release it, as a proper album, in Hungary in 1989 but thanks to the fans it started to be distributed in the old underground way: copied by the fans from tapes to tapes and soon it arrived to Scandinavia and Norway. The band was offered a deal for it on Euronymous' cult label Deathlike Silence Productions, but due to a lot of difficulties it was delayed. Tormentor's vocalist Attila Csihar, who is now quite famous for his insane and inhuman way of using his voice, was later asked to do the vocals on Mayhem's then long awaited De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas album. During Attila's stay in Norway more concrete things were sorted out between Tormentor and DSP, so finally Deathlike Silence were ready to put the album out, but before they came that far Euronymous was murdered, and the whole thing fell apart.

Tormentor, from the very beginning, played Black Metal. They were influenced by the ancient Black Metal gods of the early 1980s, but they certainly have their own unique originality. Some has even linked some parts of their sound to Hungarian folk music. Tormentor consists of a strong musicianship, even though this is Black metal in the old vein, it is being performed with great professionalism. In songs as the instrumental track "Lyssa" you can hear some really amazing guitar work. In Tormentor's music you can hear everything from raw and intense parts, both primitive and technical, to the more atmospheric type of themes with synth and a slower, mid-paced tempo. Tormentor was in fact maybe one of the first Black Metal bands to compose atmospheric songs with for example the use of synth. There are not many bands back in the late 80s who have created such music.

Anno Domini begins with an eerie intro, revisiting the main theme from "Phantasm". The band manages to maintain the creepy and epic atmosphere that this theme has always had. This leads into the unrelenting speed of "Tormentor I". This song is a combination of tremolo and thrash riffs, joined by very obscure and evil-sounding vocals. The sound is somewhat muffled, yet the brilliance still shines through. This is especially true of the great old school lead solo. There is absolutely no question as to what decade this was recorded. It is utterly consumed with the spirit of 1980s underground metal.

"Heaven" sounds very chaotic upon first listen, but if you examine it a little closer you will be able to hear what it really going on. Influences from old Slayer and Possessed are very apparent. As on the previous song, the lead solos really stand out. The song ends in a very classic way, with the slow build up and the violent crash.

The next song is, probably, Tormentor's best known. The cover version found on Dissection's Where No Dead Angels Lie E.P. was actually my introduction to this band's music. "Elisabeth Bathory" is more mid-paced and atmospheric than the songs that came before it. There is somewhat of an epic feeling contained here as this seems to be one of the most thought-out pieces on the album. The aura is very morbid and sinister. There are many tempo changes throughout the song, taking you on a journey into the deep and murky forests of Eastern Europe.

"Damned Grave" speeds things back up, keeping the focus on the guitar riffs. This song is pretty straight-forward, featuring more great solo-work near the end. Anno Domini was released at a time when many of the Black Metal bands of the 80s had transformed into something else. Bathory was transitioning to the more epic, Viking Metal sound while Sodom went to pure Thrash Metal and Celtic Frost had completely sold out and begun to seek the approval of the mainstream rock fans, failing miserably. Tormentor was among the few bands around this time, such as Mayhem and Samael, that were keeping the black flame burning during the most obscure years of Black Metal.

The song, "In Gate of Hell", embodies the foggy and obscure feeling of late 80s Black Metal. The intro is eerie and possessed of horror. Once the song gets going, the pace is unrelenting and violent, and its influence on later bands is very obvious. About midway through, the pace slows down and the riffs seem far more reminiscent of early 80s metal, rather than anything going on around the time when it was recorded, in 1988. Attila's morbid vocals and the haunting lead solo really work to make this a very memorable song.

This old school feeling continues on "Transylvania", which is one of the shortest songs on the album. After an odd build-up, the song unleashes its fury and vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

"Tormentor II" begins with more classic riffs that wouldn't be out of place on an old Mercyful Fate album. The vocals are extremely hateful on this song, while the chaotic drums blast away in the background. Halfway through, the pace changes as great thrash riffs play underneath a maniacal laugh.

The next song is "Trance", which is a brief song based off of "The Evil Dead", featuring sinister chants and the possessed laughter taken from the movie. One of the good things about 80s metal was the connection to the classic horror films. It really did well to tie in common interests. This song features a wicked tremolo riff that is gone all too soon, and ends with another killer solo.

"Beyond" is mid-paced and morbid, utilizing some synth to add to the atmosphere. This is one of the more hauntingly epic songs on the album, and it will remain creeping through the dark recesses of your mind for years to come. The solo is masterful and it seems odd how solos were, more or less, omitted from most Black Metal albums that came in the early 90s when they can do so well to add to the aura created by the song.

The thrash riffs return with "Apocalypse", which seems to owe something to bands such as Kreator and Slayer. For an album with so many songs, it is amazing that there is no filler. Typically, you get a few decent songs in the beginning and then a bunch of boring nonsense to fill out the album, ending with something more memorable just so that you are left with a good impression. In the case of Anno Domini, the album contains many more surprises as you go along.

"Lyssa" begins with great guitar work, almost reminiscent of old Iron Maiden. This instrumental really displays the excellent musicianship of the band, and makes one wonder what could have been if they had managed to record a couple full-length albums, rather than splitting up and fading into obscurity.

"Anno Domini" begins with something very similar to the "Phantasm" theme used for the intro, before turning into pure and utter chaos on tape. Attila's demonic howls sound truly possessed.

If you don't own this album, you should go to any lengths necessary to acquire it. Don't just talk about the band because you know the vocalist was in Mayhem and that Dissection covered one of their songs. Don't get the album and just listen to the original version of "Elisabeth Bathory". Take the time to really listen to this and experience all that it has to offer. This rare gem should not be as unknown as it seems to be.