Hallows Eve — Southern Thrash, old school (part one, The Metal Blade years)

“Jesus Christ, Mr Synaptic Laxative — what is with you and 1985 / 1986 Metal Blade thrash metal bands?”

Thanks for asking, Kind Reader.  In short,  I have no real answer to this.  I was young, impressionable and I was getting a LOT of free vinyl from Metal Blade at the time.  I was an angry, Pagan kid in Alabama who dared not be too vociferous about my beliefs.  I was an outcast. A loner. A maverick. An island unto myself. It was the only reason anyone would hang-out with me. Whatever bullshit you wanna add.  The truth, however, is simple; Goddamn, I love this band!

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Just look at that bunch of lovable schmucks.

Now, I understand some folks may be like “oh, you just like them because they are a Southern band”.  True.  Very true.  But that’s not the only reason, not by a long-shot.  I love this band because…fucksakes, they are just so bad-ass.

Their debut album, Tales of Terror,  in 1985, is friggin’ relentless. Tommy Stewart on bass, Stacy Anderson on vox, Skullator and Dave Stuart on guitar,  Ronny Appolot and Tym Heldon swapping-up on drums.  It opens with the apocalyptic “Plunging to Megadeath” (not to be confused with that band Dave Mustaine has, which doesn’t even spell “death” correctly).  The  bass, the guitar, the drums… it’s crazy shit. They play like there is no tomorrow, like men crazed for a chance at survival. Stacy  bites and gnashes his vocals as if someone had thrown the man a slab of bacon slathered in honey and wrapped in more bacon. But it’s not some shrieking bullshit;  this is a controlled rage.  Focused, yet visceral; an anti-war rant that is timeless and topical.

“Plunging to Megadeath seeking the truth plunging to Megadeath
Searching the youth plunge to Megadeath you live for tomorrow we live
For today our strength’s held here within our youth man soars through space
But he still wonders who lies and just who speaks the truth worrying
Won’t bring you one bit of good if you die you’ll die not at will
You’ll soon be feeling the cold hand of doom is your blood beginning to chill?”

check it out —

That is the band we all wanted to be in (by “we”, I mean my crowd of twenty or so metaldorks in Tuscaloosa, Alabama) ; this  was the album that put the South on the metal-map.  And there is just so much more. The entire album is just an awesome combination of speed and restraint. A perfect storm.

Speaking of “a perfect storm”, check out the instrumental, “Valley of Dolls” and as it goes into “Metal Merchants”.  Fucksakes!  (sorry for the crappy sound-quality — I didn’t post this)

And then, there is “Horrorshow” — jaysus!  Everything you’d ever want in a metal song.

However, I think my favorite off this album is the misfit-anthem “There Are No Rules”. This is metal mixed with just balls-out rock n roll.  It’s fast, it’s short and it slaps the friggin taste out of your mouth

However, it was the 1986 follow-up,  Death and Insanity, that really put Hallows Eve on the metal map.  Unfortunately, Skullator and Ronny had parted ways with the band by then. This second album is much more polished-sounding, slicker, more crisp. My only complaint is that Tommy Stewart’s bass could have come through in the mix a bit more. Other than that, who could possibly find any fault with this album?  The production (aside from the bass mix) is pretty friggin awesome;  the drums are almost iridescent — the sizzle of the snare, the tap on the cymbals; you can totally hear and Stacy’s vocals shine through like a paraffin-infused Rottweiler’s anger. But what really sets this album apart from it’s predecessor’s is the overall songwriting and structure. I remember the first time I heard this album, I almost didn’t believe it was the same band.

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Goddamn,  this album made me realize that these guys were probably one of the best American metal bands out there. Everything about Death and Insanity is just so great; even after thirty years, it still makes my pee-pee smile. What seems to escape most fans is that this album’s title gives a clear indication of the theme.  Yes, it’s all about Death and Insanity.  Absolutely.  And that might be a turn-off for many. But how they approach it is so totally different;  I would actually liken this album to a loose concept-album,.  Kinda like The Wall  or maybe even Quadrophenia, but without the confines of that sort of structuring .  It’s not nearly as harsh as its predecessor  , nor does it have that whole “wall of sound” that Tales of Terror had.  But what it lacks in “brutality”, it more than makes up for in substance.  No, this was a totally different album, by a much more mature band.  The stand-out for me is “Nobody Lives Forever”,  lyrics penned by Tommy Stewart. There is one verse that really speaks to me still, after all these years:

“I know when I reach my life’s sum
The addition will probably be wrong
That’s okay, I’ve made my mark
Pissed in public, at least in the dark”

Three words: Pure. Fucking. Poetry.  At sixteen years of age, that pretty much clinched everything. Because, I actually did that!  Finally, a metal band that got me!  None of that psychopathic silliness, none of that Satanic nonsense, none of that bullshit. Here was a band that understood the alienation of a Southern metalhead in the 1980s.  Oh, yes! Many years later (2006?), I was fortunate enough to meet Tommy and told him how these words have provided me with the foundation of my existence since my misspent youth. He grinned and said, “You like that one, huh?”  Hella awesome.  Have a earful:

Oh, and it gets even better.  That was probably the most “commercially accessible” tune (whatever that actually means) from the album.  It has a nice, toe-tapping tempo, mixed with some choice speedy bits.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  The greatest thing about this album is that while all the songs sound like “Hallows Eve”,  they also all sound very different.

For example,  Lethal Tendencies is grungy and kinda sludgy.  It’s like the mindset of a man who is letting the world getting better of him and is slowly descending into abject paranoia, depression and finally just saying “fuck it!” And then maybe waking-up in Hell.

How many bands can you name have ever touched on the plight of the elderly and senile?  I can only think of a handful, but these guys fucking nail it.  Vocalist Stacy penned the lyrics of Plea of the Aged  and it’s obvious he either had a family member, or had the family member of someone close to him who languished in a nursing home. It’s not satire, it’s not smarmy, it’s not some silly bullshit.  This is a sincere look at the fact we are all gonna grow old, feeble, loose the memories we most cherish and eventually die.  Of course, there is no reason not to bang your head to it and have a bit of fun.  The lyrics are spat-out quickly, as if the protagonist were about to expire and had a few choice words for the world to know before,  well, you know.  Now, I could post all the lyrics and have everyone trundle though them while listening to this.  But, I’m not gonna be that accommodating.  I will post this bit, however:

“Take from me my very soul with wretched mourning death
Take mine eyes for I have seen the hell in which we live
Take now from one man on earth who loved this life so much
Take away everything for it’s all cold to the touch
Remember me, hear my plea soon the darkness I will see
Remember me, hear my plea for now another…”

Just listen.

Now that I have bummed you out, let’s take a whole new direction. Well, maybe not a a new direction, but at least a direction that won’t have you jeezin-out over your own imminent mortality. Okay,  I lie.  D.I.E. (Death in Effect) is probably the signature tune of this album. Clocking in at just under seven minutes, it’s the longest tune here and for good reason. This is a meditation on life, existence, death and the afterlife. But most importantly,  how  one lives life and views life itself. Again, this one is grungy and plodding, but so is life, right?

“We are all dying there’s no sense in trying no way you can stop it, no way
Death comes to you when you’re an early son
Then he walks beside you all the way
Any moment he might strike reflecting your past life
And sentencing you to the grave
Don’t live life worrying ’bout things you can’t stop
If you give in then you’ll be his slave”

Bend thy ear for seven minutes and become enlightened.

There was a two-year lull before Hallows Eve released Monument in 1988. Metal had changed, especially thrash metal.  Labels were looking for the next “big thing”. Because labels are really only concerned with money.  And by 1988, Metal Blade was no different.  Gone were the days of record companies sending multiple copies of albums as promotional give-aways. Record companies became stingy as fuck.  We used to get not only multiple copies of rekkids, but they stopped sending autographed promo pics, stickers. posters, patches and tickets to shows as well. There seemed to be an attitude of “well, if majors haven’t picked-up a band by now, there was no real reason to actually promote bands. As a result, the scene suffered.  And Hallows Eve was caught, by no fault of their own in this web of bullshit, like so many other bands at the time.

Regardless of the high and low of it all, Monument was released.  I really liked the album; I still do. Finally, Tommy Stewart’s bass shined through on this one and it maintains the crispness of it’s predessessor. And I think what I really liked about it was that they seemed to consciously maintain the vibe and feel of Death and Insanity.   It’s a kick-ass album.  It opens with a great thrash epic “Speed Freak”, followed by a Queen cover of “Sheer Heart Attack” and then delves into “Rot Gut”, a commentary on an unbalanced human psyche that is actually kinda scary given the modern context.  Vaguely alluding to a spree-shooter, well before that shit became en vogue during the Clinton era, this tune plods along as a mid-tempo tribute to the mosh-pit war-dances of yore and suburban angst.

“Dog dung, TV cum
Residential maelstrom
Find a closet, hide from mom
Suck some rot gut, clean my gun

Water jar, family car
Wobble-up to the local bar
Gonna have me a little fun
Suck some rot gut, load my gun

Public school, Kenwood fool
Heads explode, nobody’s tool
Pull the trigger and I’ll be done
Suck some rot gut, fire my gun”

 

For years,  I have puzzled-over the meaning of the title track to this album.  I’m not certain if it’s an ode to the futility of existence, or if it’s an homage to some great unifying principle that we all share. Of course, I never thought to actually ask them what they meant by it.  Regardless,  it’s an epic, thought-provoking ditty and my favorite lyric is:

“For every man stands a ghost
For every ghost stands a star
For every star stands a thought
And these accumulate somewhere”

Finally,  I would like to mention “The Righteous Ones” and “No Sanctuary”. Both touch on something that is very topical these days; the insistence of the Evangelical Right’s push to interfere with individual rights, while hiding behind “freedom of religion”. While the sheer hypocrisy of the Evangelical crowd could in many ways be laughed-off as the loud-mouthed rantings of terrified, intellectually-retarded Bible-thumpers,  it’s gets a little more  uneasy when one realizes these ignorant, sanctimonious fools have actual political power.  They bemoan “Sharia Law”, but they refuse to understand that’s exactly what they want to impose on everyone else.

“The Righteous Ones
Lead us on
With make believe
Your so-called righteousness
Forget your Constitutional rights
We are the new law
Soon you will
Be cleansed like us
Without any flaws!”

“No Sanctuary
For those without forgiveness in their hearts
Life’s more punishing than death
For those without mercy in their souls
The world is thine unrelenting enemy”

So,  while the album ends on a “serious note”,  “No Sanctuary” jams, does it not?  We would have to wait until 2005 for a new Hallows Eve album.  However,  Monument was a hell of a way to end the 80s.

More on the post-Metal Blade years sometime later on

Why I Still Love Slayer, and the “Hell Awaits” Era In Particular

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The first article I ever had published was an article about Slayer in my high school newspaper.  So,  I guess it’s only fitting that my first blog post would also be about Slayer.  I have matured so much since 1986.

I was fourteen when I first heard Slayer.  It was 1984 and I was entering my  freshman year of high school. I had already been a long-time fan of hard-rock and metal, but it had been of the Motley Crue, WASP, Dio and Iron Maiden variety with a dash of Metallica.  Tom Duncan (The Heavy Metal Warrior) had taken over the Friday night 10pm-2am slot on the University of Alabama’s radio station (WVUA– or V-91 back them) and called it “Total Destruction”.   It was a ballsy move on his part;  the University of Alabama as well as the surrounding town of Tuscaloosa was and still is staunchly firm in their view about what constituted as the “Three Pillars of Civilization”.  Jesus Christ, Alabama Football and deer hunting. None of which were my thing.  I did, however, love metal.  But when I heard “Chemical Warfare” by Slayer for the first time, everything changed.

Tom played real metal.  Thrash/black/death metal.  We weren’t so “genre-obsessed” back then; none of this “power metal”, “nu metal”,”post metal” (whatever the hell that is),”doom metal”, “National Socialist Black Metal” silliness.  However there was a clear distinction between “glam / hair metal” (poseurs) and “real metal”. “Real metal” a definition for it is rather elusive. It’s a bit like what the US Supreme Court considers “obscene”; you can’t quite put it into words, but  you know it when you hear / see it. That was “real metal”.

Anyway, I want to dig into the whole 1985 Slayer for a bit, because I feel this was probably the most influential-era of the band, not only on my sheltered suburban Alabama self, but on the scene in general.  I remember I had this surreal vibe when I actually had my own copy in my hands for the first time. Being a kid in Alabama, owning a copy of this seemed absolutely subversive,  nearly… illegal.   Far more than Metallica (because they never really delved into the Devil-schlock),  Hell  Awaits, brought underground thrash to the forefront. 1985 also marked a kind of watershed for the genre as well;  it was really the last year thrash was still a truly “underground” movement.  More on that another time.

Now, I understand that “Chemical Warfare” is on the Haunting the Chapel  EP (and that it actually came out in June of 1984).  However, it, unlike Show No Mercy,  proved to be iconic in what would define the “Slayer” sound from there on.  Hell Awaits maintained this atmosphere; and since the two of them together is a total of ten songs, I use my warped sense of math to call the two of them a single album.  I am a douchetard.  I never claimed to be otherwise.. There were other albums that came out on Metal Blade Records during the same time–  Nasty Savage,  Hallow’s Eve, etc.  but there was a strange sort of , almost hypnotic bleakness to the production in what Slayer offered at the time.  Listening to Hell Awaits feels like an auditory tour into Perdition.  There is a background vibe to Hell Awaits that screams of loneliness and solitude It’s dark, it’s nasty, it’s kinda scary and it is fucking brilliant!

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Just look at that album cover. Dante himself would have been stretched to top the lyrical imagery contained in Haunting the Chapel and Hell Awaits.  Both begin ominously, of course.  But what they both unleash is a whirlwind of stringed-frenzy.  It’s not just “noise”, either; several of Slayer’s songs have been revamped by stringed ensembles and the interpretations are ass-kicking.  Sure, this is raw, underground thrash metal… but it’s also actual music. The arrangements are complex, intricate throughout the album; time changes happen without warning; the vocals are visceral and hateful, barking;  gone were the shrieking vocals that characterized the first album. Hell Awaits from top to bottom is a well-thought-out, musically-mature album that was in so many ways ahead of it’s time.   There is a flow, and overall atmosphere unlike any other album.  The blanketing darkness is tempered with a fury that is both admirable and unsettling. But even between the songs, the silence seems to only add to the bleak feel of the album.

Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman were the main culprits who put together this masterpiece musically, and for the most part, lyrically as well. You kinda gotta wonder if they weren’t tapped into something otherworldly.  Show No Mercy was an okay album, don’t get me wrong;  but it sounded like a first album, recorded by a handful of schmucks who had no idea what they were doing, which it was. Show No Mercy became Metal Blade Records highest selling LP and boasts no other producer other than the band itself. Brian Slagel of course took credit, but it wasn’t until  Haunting the Chapel  that he actually forked-over some much-needed cash and brought engineer Bill Metoyer aboard but fort the follow-up LP, Hell Awaits. The difference in sound is like night and day; both  sound like well-oiled machines. Honestly, I cannot pick a “favorite” song from either the LP or the EP. However, there are a few that I feel stand-out.

Firstly, there is of course the title track.  “Hell Awaits” is your typical evangelical sermon set to metal music.  I still have no idea why those folks had such a problem with this music. It begins with a bleak, sort of Stygian groove of a primitive, tribal drumming, then graduating into a solid,  unrelenting marching tour of Perdition. How anyone could ever say this tune “glorifies Satan” is absolutely beyond me.  This ditty will do what no Baptist minister could ever hope to accomplish —  it made one laugh at damnation.  It begins with an obvious back-masked message as a piss-take to the PMRC-inspired paranoia at the time.  For those wondering,  the message is “join us” repeated, the growl at the end is “here in Hell”.  Who besides evangelicals could take this shit seriously?

Then there is “Kill Again”.  A Jack-the-Ripperesque waltz though the mind of a psychopath, which was a typical motif of metal at the time. In my opinion, an okay bit to bang your head to, not really a stand-out track.

However,  it’s “At Dawn They Sleep” is where Slayer really does their thing;  this is the first real “horror” tune they did.  Incredible structure, vividly-atmospheric, so many tempo-changes, each buildng-up to the end. Yeah, it’s about vampires, but not those sparkly poseurs from Twilight.  oh, Hell no!  These are the Armies of the Night that Christopher Lee would allude to; something nearly Lovecraftian.  This ditty ends with a grunting chant:

“Driven by the instinct of
centuries of horror
Implanted along the brain
of the sickening parasite
Linked together by one trait
The Hell-filled need to kill… kill… kill… kill… KILL”

That graduates  full throttle to the near limits of speed in which one is able to shout the following:

“Emerging from their Hellish tomb
Taking flight amidst the night
The evening skies are raining Death
Swooping down from shadowed skies
Taking simple human form
Shed their wings to stalk the mortal man
Lock their jaws into your veins
Satanic soldiers strike their prey
Leaving corpses waiting for the change
Blood dripping from the jaws of Death
Not enough to satisfy
They must drain your soul of life”

I have to admit, that my favorite tune off the LP is “Crypts of Eternity” (even though I said I couldn’t pick a favorite — this ain’t the New Yorker, so cut me some slack, willya?).  There is a lot of allusion to ancient Eastern religion in this tune and I feel it’s probably the most “atmospheric” song of the album. It begins with a wall of chaos, and then settles into a frenetic groove that is so off-beat that it you can’t help to bang your head a little bit to it. The tempo is difficult to explain, as so much of it is experimental; nobody was even touching-on what Slayer was doing with this song.  It’s a strange tune, for sure. But in my opinion, it gave us our fist glimpse as to what Reign In Blood would be like just a year later.

I don’t know if most Slayer fans have ever picked-up on the outro of the final song of Hell Awaits, “Hardening of the Arteries” is also the intro to the album.  Which to this fan screams a warning : excessive living, poor diet and lack of exercise will lead to heart attack and / or stroke and your sloth, lust and gluttony will drag you into Hell.   There are seven songs on Hell Awaits,  and there are also Seven Deadly Sins.  Seriously, how can the evangelical crowd have any problem with this album?

I can’t leave this without saying something about “Chemical Warfare”.   This tune actually picked-up at lot airplay from college radio all over the US for a little while.  It’s on the Haunting the Chapel  EP which has three songs.  The other two your typical devil-metal bits, typical of the time  (“Haunting the Chapel” and “Captor of Sin”).  But “Chemical Warfare” picked-up a buzz with the punk crowd due to it’s obvious anti-war message.  This EP predated Hell Awaits by six months and was recorded while on the road.  It was so much more raw production-wise than Hell Awaits or even their debut, Show No Mercy;  which may have lead to it’s hardcore credibility.  Regardless, it was this EP that began them touring with the likes of Corrosion of Conformity, D.R.I., etc. in addition to metal bands.

Sure,  the later albums were far more polished, and the follow-up to Hell Awaits helped to fling Slayer, and thrash in general, straight into the mainstream.  But nothing else sounded quite like these two  releases at the time, or really since. They not only redefined metal in general; they also helped to legitimize underground 80s metal and paved they way for   so many other bands.  But showed that we mullet-sporting, ripped-jeans-wearing, black leather-jacket clad kids actually had buying-power;  Show No Mercy  alone sold 40,000 copies worldwide even before Hell Awaits was recorded.  While I am unable to find any numbers regarding the number of copies of Hell Awaits that have been sold,  I can say that their follow-up peaked at #94 on the Billboard Top-100.

Say whatever you like about Slayer.  However, it quite impossible to burn the bridge that brought you over the proverbial Rubicon without giving kudos where kudos are due.

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This ain’t no “glorifying Satan” — does this look like a “pro-hell endorsement” to you?