Friday, April 17, 2009

Hellhammer - Apocalyptic Raids (1984)

Apocalyptic Raids was the first, and only, official Hellhammer release. As Martin Eric Ain joined the band, right after the recording of Satanic Rites, the sound of Hellhammer was expanded and became more sophisticated. Recorded during the first week of March 1984, at Caet Studio in Berlin, this E.P. was produced by the band and engineered by Horst Müller. After discovering the band through "Crucifixion", featured on Metal Massacre III, I sought out the Satanic Rites album but found this instead.

The opening moments of "The Third of the Storms (Evoked Damnation)" were a little bit of a disappointment for me, when I first heard this. I was expecting something with more of a raw edge to it. I'd later learn that the previous version of this song was more of what I was seeking. The sound here is a little too smooth and 'polished'. It has rather poor production (which doesn't bother me), but the sound is rather flat. The good thing is that Tom Warrior / Gabriel Fischer / Satanic Slaughter / whatever-the-Hell-his-name-is does a better job with the vocals. They are fairly low in the mix and remain somewhat indecipherable, which really works for him. The song is short and fast-paced, but it's not very energetic.

Next up is "Massacra", which is fast-paced but, once again, lacks that extra something. There is no dark atmosphere and it feels more like Punk than Metal, reminding me of GBH moreso than Venom. This is nothing more than a few minutes of mediocre songwriting.

Here is the moment where Hellhammer redeemed themselves and made their mark on Black Metal. "Triumph of Death" is the most epic composition to come from this trio and it is filled with a dark and tortured atmosphere. From the twisting guitar riffs that begin the song with an ominous tone to the absolutely tortured screams, this is a masterpiece. The screams and moans are, quite possibly, the sickest thing caught on tape at that point. The song continues to build up, with pounding drums that are heavy enough to crush your skull. The first verse conveys the grim feeling of this morbid track.

"When you have been down in your grave...alive
Your mind decays and you're the coffin's slave
And when at midnight an uncanny bell tolls...
Terrible noises, the dark graveyard calls"

The vocal delivery is sick and tormented. The riff that follows this is very familiar, as it is later recycled on Morbid Tales. Earlier versions of this song utilized this riff at a faster pace, closer to how it was used by Celtic Frost. Another riff change is accompanied by distant moaning. As the song slows down, once again, another chilling scream murders your soul. This agonizing sound is enough to freeze your blood. The familiar riff returns, sounding a little out of place, but it works. The music is drenched in a feeling of doom and mortal despair and the vocal contributions of Mr. Fischer deserve a lot of credit for making this song as dark and morbid as it is. The song ends with the first verse being repeated as the vocals sound almost more insane than tormented, at this point. You feel the urge to take a razor and slice your veins until all you see is stained with crimson. Words cannot do justice to this classic song. Just the fact that Hellhammer was so intimidated by what they created here, to the point where they laid the band to rest, should say something for it. They knew that they could never again match the intensity or the dark feeling captured, here, so they gave up rather than try.

The last song of the Apocalyptic Raids E.P. is "Horus/Aggressor". This one begins with a repetitive drum beat as the guitars fade in from the abyss. This brief intro fades back into nothingness as a new riff takes over. This is rather mid-paced, despite the rumbling double-bass, but has a little more energy than the first two songs. The pace picks up in the final minute or so, though it is nothing compared to the fury delivered by their contemporaries, such as Slayer or Bathory. This isn't a bad song. It's far more memorable than the first two, while not coming close to the dark epic that preceded it.

Later versions of Apocalyptic Raids feature two songs from the Death Metal compilation, from Noise Records. The first is "Revelations of Doom", which kills most of the material on this E.P. It's faster, more energetic and has more of a Metal feeling. This must have seemed pretty extreme on a compilation that also featured Helloween and Running Wild. It's not as raw as the version found on Satanic Rites, but none of the re-recorded songs are.

The last offering is a re-recorded version of "Messiah". The opening moments give the feeling if impending doom, before the song explodes. All of these songs were recorded in the same session, so it doesn't make a lot of sense that these last two were left off the official release. Both should have been present and, really, this song should have led off the album. Again, this isn't as raw as the version on Satanic Rites but it is, easily, the most energetic and Metal song on this album. It holds pretty true to the original, and the few differences are made up for in some improvements in vocal delivery. Outside of "Triumph of Death", this is about as evil as Mr. Fischer ever managed to sound.

Despite some of the songs falling flat due to songwriting, execution or production, Apocalyptic Raids is well worth your time just for the epic masterpiece "Triumph of Death", alone. It is even more worthwhile if you get the Brazilian version of the L.P. or the later CD re-issues as those include two more songs.