Sunday, November 11, 2012

Necronomicon - Necronomicon [1986]

Necronomicon formed way back in 1983 but didn’t get a demo out until 1985 (they released 2 demos that year, actually) and released their debut self-titled full length in ’86, so I guess they kind of missed the ball on the whole “German thrash explosion” thing which prevented them from getting the kind of recognition that has seen Sodom, Kreator and Destruction heralded as 80’s thrash metal giants.

What can thrash aficionados expect from this album? How about something that sounds very similar to early Destruction? Snarling Schimer-esque vocals, crunchy guitars and killer riffs to match and competent drumming. Sadly, the bass seems to drop in an out here, but I think that’s more of a production problem which is unfortunate because aside from this small detail I think the production is perfect (keep in mind, though, I have the reissue which was put out in 2007 by Battle Cry records, which also has a different tracklisting to the original).

One thing about this band that will stick out to most listeners is the Destruction comparisons, which unfortunately can’t exactly be avoided, but I think it’s very unfair to the band to refer to them as a “poor mans Destruction”, because if you can ignore the comparisons I think you will find plenty to like with this band and their releases (the third full length “Escalation” is essential German thrash listening). Infact, after listening to this band for a long time, I actually prefer them over Destruction.

For me, the standout track on this album is “Possessed by Evil”, which is an absolute stomper of a thrash metal song and I would put it up there with the likes of “Riot of Violence” by Kreator and “Nuclear Winter” by Sodom. In other words; it’s a classic track!

The big let down with “Necronomicon” is that the tracks are pretty inconsistent with a lot of hit-and-miss going on, but they redeem themselves with tracks like “Possessed by Evil” and “Magic Forest”.

I would recommend this album and band to every old-school thrash aficionado out there. Give it a chance, and keep in mind, the band does improve on their later releases, so don’t be too put off by the sloppiness of their debut, if that’s the kind of thing that puts you off.

Possessed by Evil
Magic Forest

Final Rating:
7.5/10 Mediocre (poor choice of word in the case of this album; I would call it"above average but not brilliant, just a fuckin' good thrash record".)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gammacide - Victims Of Science [1989]

Although at the time there was Devastation, who delivered their smoldering masterpiece two years later, Gammacide were ultimately the most spastic, ballistic thrash metal act coming from Lone Star State. This would, unfortunately be the the sole full-length release by the band, but during the uttermost pinnacle for thrash Gammacide ruptures an absolutely tremendous cataclysmic boulder-shower of brickwall riffs and immense nuclear bombardments hailing in an all-out pernicious atomic explosion, and so infectiously captivating are their riffs that it was literally impossible to shelter from the brick rain that never seemed to cease; the band's shtick was thundering with ridiculous abominations of ferocity and and riveting attention with their meticulous obscenity.

The very first time I encountered this frenzy, I was perplexed, to say the least. Gammacide could have easily reigned over the parched wastelands of Texas with such a stomping precision, but such a fate was never written in the cards. But ignoring their future misfortune, ''Victims Of Science'' is the gathering of the most violent thrash that was available up to that point, a shrewd aversion against society's imprudent actions against the environment, and pure, unbridled anger, absolutely pulsing through the gamma-radiated veins of the band members. Gammacide delivered so many riffs in single three-minute tracks that they could even be considered omnipotent riff deities, and there's also Vernam Ponville's Sean Killian-esque approach that boasted of relentless fury, and spasmodic leads drilling into the listener's subconscious like some mutated laser - these were all the surgical twists they could pull off, and who knows, they might have even fabricated more and even catchier material if they had lived through the massacre of thrash during the mid-late 90's.

''Victims Of Science'' can well be considered as one of the most neck-wrecking extremities that was prevalent in those days, and it's absolutely straight up ferocity at its finest, most purest. I even consider counting the band's later demo material as an inimical piece of this puzzle, and hell, even if you can't show relative enthusiasm against this distorted nuclear bombast, I'm assuming many will still give into its lyrics:

In the race to win priorities lost
Victory assured at what cost?
Defense network spread far and wide
Works off human sacrifice
Radiation that leaves us dead
Won't harm circuits encased in lead
Countries of the world are robbed of life
Battles are waged by satellites

Machines are given full reign
Electronic soldiers feel no pain
If they win who's to gain?
Your fate is sealed by emotionless steel

For the typical, banging thrasher there's not a single fail in this album. Even a more reluctant listener might as well be content with a dozen of listens to bear and behold this imposing ferocity and the ludicrous ingredients that make if what it is. It's hardcore, it's thrash, it's sheer brutality, and no matter how overlooked it is it can still send countless numbers of its fellow competitors spinning in dazzled exhaustion and still explode with an hooking, atomic, and even cheesy discharge. 

Victims Of Science
Chemical Imbalance 
Endangered Species

Final Rating:
Awesome [8.7/10]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Helloween - Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I [1987]

Here we have an album that many consider to be one of the most influential Euro-power metal albums of all time, and that wouldn't be an inaccurate statement, only it was influential for a sound that I couldn't care less for. Helloween showed that they were a legit band capable of delivering doses of brilliance in their music when they released the masterpiece "Walls of Jericho," but this album is just... different. For one, "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I" sees the introduction of Michael Kiske on vocals, and while I have nothing against the man, it's a shame that Hansen could no longer pulled double duty on guitar and as the frontman, because his unpolished and enthusiastic approach to fronting the band was a joy to hear on the debut EP and full-length. Kiske's vocals are on their own outstanding, but they suit a watered down version of Helloween a lot better, and that's really what the band is on their sophomore - watered down. 

It may sound like I'm bashing "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I," but I do enjoy the album, it's not what I was expecting to hear after listening to the much more raw debut, a bonafide classic, and while this record is considered a classic, it just doesn't live up to expectations. For the most part, the kickass speed-oriented riffs that Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath mass-produced before are gone; replaced by more midpaced riffage akin to groups like Priest and Maiden, which isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't spark the same feeling that amazing songs like "Ride the Sky" and "Victims of Fate" had. It's not all bad, though, as songs like "I'm Alive" and "A Little Time" are great midpaced tunes that show off Kiske's great voice, as well as the non-stop shredding from the guitarists, with the former track featuring excellent solos that are actually some of the better parts of the music at points throughout the record. This album also has one of Helloween's best songs ever in "Twilight of the Gods," an epic anthem with an insanely catchy chorus, stellar guitar playing on both ends, and Kiske's phenomenal vocal performance. 

However, I find myself needing to complain about this album again. It's very short and with only six songs of actual substance, all six of these songs needed to be overly-exceptional, but that's not the case. "A Tale That Wasn't Right" is an acoustic ballad that just falls flat and makes me want to hit the skip button, while "Future World" is another song that just fails to retain anything that could be considered awesome. I don't want to sound like some miserable cunt, but the song is just too damn happy sounding and has no real substance to it. Had these two tracks been cut from the record, "Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I" would've made a terrific EP and another Helloween release that could be considered a major "win." The basic tale of the tape for this record is one that sees the band evolve their sound (which is a natural thing for bands, and one that we as fans have no control over), but not for the better. There are still some great songs here that save it from being a total flop, with "Twilight of the Gods" and the epic closer "Halloween" being worth listening to this record again on their own. This is a band that showed a lot of promise, but unfortunately fell short and it's safe to say this is the last record where I could summon enough fucks to give about the group after they teased me with their fantastic debut. 

"I'm Alive"
"Twilight of the Gods"

Final Rating
Barely Awesome [8/10]

Helloween - Walls of Jericho [1985]

Even with the sudden thrash surge that was taking over the metal underground in the mid to late eighties, Helloween didn't hop onto the bandwagon, at least not the way that other German acts were at the time. When the band released their debut full-length "Walls of Jericho," there were a few other up and coming bands in Germany by the names of Sodom, Kreator and Destruction, all of which released their ruthless music in one form or another around the same period, but instead of releasing a record full of vicious riffs and ugly vocals, Kai Hansen and company delivered the best record that Helloween has ever put their logo stamp on, and it had none of the aggressive assets that made those future-legends stand out. Sure, the music on here is faster than anything the band would ever release again, but I'd hardly call it aggressive or barbaric, especially with all of the melodies and solos that make up a significant portion of the music.

After releasing the five-song self-titled EP several months earlier, Helloween unleashed their debut full-length "Walls of Jericho" which could only be described as Europe's answer to American classics that were released a year earlier such as Omen's "Battle Cry" or Jag Panzer's "Ample Destruction." The Germans had the speed, riffs, melodies, solos and everything else that goes into making a top-notch '80s speed/power metal record. But most importantly, they knew how to write songs that didn't get boring or tread upon a repetitive path that would bore the listener. There's a great mix of faster riffage that was undeniably influenced by bands like Venom, Metallica and Slayer, midpaced riffs made to get your headbanging and plenty of phenomenal solos and melodies that provided even more reasons to fall in love with the music. Kai Hansen's vocals usually draw a pretty split response from Helloween fans, but I have zero complaints about his style or performance on this album. His vocals aren't exactly pretty (like the man who would later take the reins in Michael Kiske), but they fit the music. His high-pitched yells aren't on par with Halford, but they aren't horrible, in fact, they make classic songs like "Ride the Sky" and "How Many Tears" the epic anthems that they are as his vocals mesh with the rest of the music perfectly. 

The only complaint about "Walls of Jericho" that I can make is that the band decided to start the album with the best song the band ever wrote in "Ride the Sky," a masterful song full of terrific riffs, an unforgettable chorus and plenty of lead guitar wizardry. Luckily, the rest of the songs on this record are awesome as well. "Reptile" and "Guardians" are both worthy songs and both show off Markus Grosskopf's bass skills, which is just another reason why Helloween kicks so much ass on the debut. "Phantoms of Death" is a bit more epic than the other songs on here as the verse features (what I believe is a) keyboard parts that back Hansen's vocals as well as plenty of amazing solos and melodies throughout, while "Metal Invaders" and "Heavy Metal (Is the Law)" should please all of the speed-freaks who need their dose of fast riffs. This is definitely one of my favorite power metal albums and it's easily one of the best old-school metal albums from Germany. It's a shame that the band would abandon this sound down the line (the next album, actually) to pioneer the typical Euro-power metal (ugh) that's become prevalent today, but I can always come back to this masterpiece and enjoy Helloween in their finest hour. 

"Ride the Sky"
"Phantoms of Death"

Final Rating
Masterpiece [9.2/10]

Helloween - Helloween [1985] (EP)

Power metal wasn't a full-blown subgenre by the time 1985 rolled around, with only a handful of bands playing the style of music that was very rooted in the vein of bands like Maiden or Angel Witch, only the music was usually faster and thrashier. Bands like Omen, Savage Grace, Jag Panzer (and the earlier incarnation of Tyrant) and Fates Warning all took their stab at paving the way for this new form of music and they released some damn fine records, but this was mostly being done in the states. Enter Helloween and their self-titled EP, a five track showcase for the young group who would later become much more important in Europe's power metal movement. The music here isn't like the band's latter material that they're more well-known for, but it doesn't shy away from the speedy onslaughts that were made awesome on records like "Battle Cry" and "Metal Church," providing plenty of quickness in the riffs and a lot of substance as well. 

This EP is the brainchild of the master himself Kai Hansen, who not only brandished the kickass riffage on "Helloween," but handled vocal duties as well. His high pitched approach isn't anything overly special or innovative, but it suits the music perfectly and any fan of traditional metal probably wouldn't be able to complain about him. The man is also an absolute beast with his ax, too. The amount of insane soloing throughout this EP (and pretty much every other Helloween release he played on for that matter) is crazy. It doesn't matter if the man is shredding away, playing solos that are as fast as the riffs, or writing more melodic leads that are meant to add some memorability to the songs, this man does not know how to write a bad solo. The rhythm section is also solid. The bass playing and drumming aren't too much of a highlight on their own, but combined with Hansen's impressive guitarwork and vocals, they don't really need to shine so much. 

The EP kicks off with "Starlight," a catchy number that features upbeat riffs, ear-catching melodies and a lot of shredding from the German extraordinaire (which is a common theme for pretty much all of the band's early material that Hansen played on). "Murderer" and "Warrior" both tread along a similar path as both feature their share of solid riffage, solos galore and more over the top vocals (sound familiar?) Of course there's a bit more variety to this EP and that couldn't be more evident than on the track "Victim of Fate" which has some stellar melodic riffs and Hansen's best vocal performance. The way he yells "You will burn in hell!" is fucking killer and reminds one of Grim Reaper's Steve Grimmett, before the equally kickass solos come in and make the track a must-listen. The final track "Cry For Freedom" is almost as excellent as the preceding song; the acoustic intro with Hansen's vocals make for a nice change of pace and show that the band is more than capable of writing more than just fast riffs and a bunch of solos. "Helloween" is definitely a great way to make some noise for a young band getting their start, and while I wouldn't call it a must-have EP for every metal fan, it's definitely worth listening to if you're a fan of the band or the power metal genre. It's just a shame that Helloween would go on to create some shite music that couldn't be any further from the early creations that made the band so awesome, but again, that's a rant for another day. 

"Victim of Fate"
"Cry For Freedom"

Final Rating
Awesome [8.7/10]