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