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As intros to death metal go, mine wasn’t too shabby. I bought “Slowly We Rot” blind, in the days of (me) having no internet and just a sick logo and equally sick artwork to tickle my pubescent fancy! I had never even heard any death metal at that point but I instantly loved every fucking minute of this record.
I had to play it at my grandparents house and luckily my grandad had a great stereo set up. When he first heard the record he though he had something wrong with his equipment. I had to convince him for a good few minutes that it was supposed to sound like that.
I was instantly enthralled by Tardy’s vocal style and remember thinking how insane it was that a human could make such a noise. It was like a dumped high school girl puking and sobbing her hatred for boys out with only the occasional word actually audible through all the hatred and vitriol.
The atmosphere on the record scared the shite out of me, like some soundtrack to some mind bending horror film. The record plays like a writhing, shifting mass of fetid, acrid evil just toying with the listener and taking great pleasure in doing so. The riffs on here are fucking scathing too so any flesh left on your bones from the Tardy onslaught is soon detached once the riffs kick in. Peres and West made a great partnership, leaving as much of an impact with their six strings as Tardy did with his vocal chords.
Although end to end this is a thoroughly ferocious affair it does lose me sometimes, not necessarily out of complexity more out of if sounding a little samey in places. Still though this is a benchmark Death Metal album for me based on both nostalgia and the overall genre impact it had.
Regrettably I sold my vinyl copy of this record and now don’t even have it on stream but I can still recall every track and every terrifying Tardy howl.
The initial era of German heavy metal was dominated by two bands in Scorpions & Accept & we'd have to wait 'til the mid-80's before we'd see the introduction of another major contender. The artist I'm referring to is of course Running Wild & they’d go on to play an important role in the late 80’s & early 90’s metal scene. But for the purposes of this review, we’ll just be focusing our attentions on their debut studio album, 1984's “Gates To Purgatory”.
Running Wild first formed in Hamburg back in 1976 so they’d been around for a while by this stage & I think you can hear that maturity in the execution here. The band seem to know their sound quite well & don’t try to over-extend themselves on their first effort. Instead this four-piece outfit tend to keep things fairly simple & focus on the song-writing. The production has that authentic 80’s underground metal sound & I think it really works for Running Wild here.
Musically you can expect a fairly short album with just the eight songs included; three of which fall comfortably into the speed metal category with the other five being more in line with the classic heavy metal sound. As with most of the European metal scene at the time, the NWOBHM was certainly the major influence on Running Wild & I’d probably describe them as a mixture of Judas Priest & Venom with bits of Iron Maiden here & there. The Venom influence is really obvious in the speed metal tracks but also in the lyrics & image with “Gates To Purgatory” sporting mainly Satanic themes & imagery. It’s interesting because this is certainly not in line with the band’s later works which were amongst the first to tackle predominantly pirate-related themes. There’s a lot of Judas Priest in the riff assault on offer here while the dual guitar attack also reeks of Judas Priest's Tipton/Downing combo. The inclusion of guitar harmonies often leaves me thinking of Iron Maiden though. As does the obviously Maiden-esque “Genghis Khan” with its hilariously mispronounced chorus. This isn’t the only time you’ll hear that sort of thing on the album either. “Preacher” sees Running Wild taking a temporary side road through Black Sabbath territory while “Black Demon” seems to indicate that Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine might well have been a fan as it sports a pretty similar sound to some of Megadeth’s early-to-mid 90’s albums.
Front man Rock ‘n’ Rolf doesn’t sport the trademark high-pitched European heavy metal approach. He takes a much more gruff direction & I’d suggest that Venom’s Cronos & Tank’s Algy Ward might have been his two main influences. It’s interesting that I can hear a fair bit of the early European thrash metal bands like Sodom & Coroner in some of Rolf’s delivery & I’d be willing to bet that those bands were all over “Gates To Purgatory”. Particularly Sodom as you can hear it in the thrashier riffs here too.
But the big problem with Running Wild’s debut is in the song-writing I’m afraid. It’s just not a consistent enough album. I only like four of the eight songs with the B-side being pretty weak & seeing the album out in sluggish fashion. Many might disagree with me on this topic but I find the hooks to be too obvious & simple at times. I mean take a listen to the closing number “Prisoner Of Our Time” which is clearly the most popular track on the album. To my ears it just sounds pretty flat with very little energy & a chorus that’s trying way too hard. "Gates To Purgatory" is all a bit too accessible for a band with this sort of potential & I subsequently find it to be a disappointing listen even though it promised so much early on.
After their debut full length Maiden immediately kicked up a gear or two on the sophomore release. Retaining those memorable songs as well as the theme of tracks named after history’s/culture’s more dark figures (‘Genghis Khan’, ‘Murders In the Rue Morgue’), their second album was a near perfect natural progression from the previous year. Showing an already increased maturity yet sacrificing none of the spunky attitude and energy in the process.
Sadly, for me at least, this was Di’anno’s swan song but fuck me did he get to go out on a high note. ‘Killers’ for me is Maiden’s finest hour. Everything from the artwork through to the musical content is just brilliant. Better arranged than the debut, with more tracks to play with the album feels like more of an experience. As mentioned on my review of the debut, things didn’t go downhill as such after this but I never again felt the raw energy of the first two albums transposed into any of the releases after them.
The punishing rhythm of ‘Wrathchild’, the nefarious structure of the title track and the racing melodies of ‘Purgatory’ all standout for me whenever I play this record. Proud that have it on my shelves.
"Heavy Metal Breakdown" was the debut album from a four-piece German heavy metal outfit going by the particularly metal moniker of Grave Digger. Now some of you might have heard of them before but I’d hazard to guess that most of you probably haven’t & what’s really surprising about Grave Digger is that they’ve gone on to release around twenty studio albums in their career which puts them right up there with the Motorhead’s of the world. It’s pretty astounding when you consider that they’ve been able to achieve those sort of numbers but have never really broken out of the underground. It’s a credit to their commitment to metal really but it’s also a little sad, isn’t it?
Grave Digger first formed back in 1980 & after making a few appearances at some small festival events they managed to get two songs included on the “Rock From Hell” compilation in 1983 which kick-started their recording career & was the catalyst for this initial full-length effort a year later in October 1984. The “Heavy Metal Breakdown” record is highlighted by a particularly brutal guitar sound which was amongst the heaviest the metal world had heard to the time. But it wasn't just the production that was heavy. There are some truly vicious riffs to be found here as well with several tracks bleeding over into genuine speed metal or even thrash metal territory.
Vocalist Chris Boltendahl has one of those abrasive screaming styles similar to Udo Dirkschneider from Accept although he often sounds like he’s trying to sing like Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, only with very little success. Overkill’s Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth springs to mind too but just like Udo, Chris is definitely in his element when he’s going for an aggressive balls-out metal approach. He really does sound pretty ordinary when he attempts to actually sing & I’d strongly encourage him to leave that stuff to the Halfords & Dios & concentrate on what he does best which is shriek like there’s no tomorrow.
The rhythm section knows exactly what to do to further highlight the brutal riff assault & from a purely musical point of view “Heavy Metal Breakdown” is right up my alley. The heavier Judas Priest & Accept material is the obvious reference point & those two influences were the primary component of the German heavy metal sound overall really. In fact, if you pay close attention, the speed metal inclusions here seem to be custom-made replicas of Accept’s classic speed metal anthem “Fast As A Shark” while my album highlight “Legions Of The Lost” is a fully fledged thrash metal number that showcases some very powerful bottom-string triplets during the main riff that’ll really get your blood pumping. There are a number of riffs here that leave me with the distinct impression that Kreator may have been heavily influenced by Grave Digger & I could probably show you a number of similarities between these riffs & some of those from the late 80’s output of the Gods of Teutonic Thrash.
But don’t get too excited just yet people. The album’s dragged down considerably by one of the weakest metal ballads you’ll ever encounter in the God awful “Yesterday”. It truly is a repulsive abortion of a song with Chris doing his level best to reduce me to a cowering child just begging for him to cease with the barrage of cringe-worthy vocal cheese. As with most of this material, the lyrics are absolutely appalling & I can’t express just how badly this song effects my enjoyment of the album overall. But it’s not the only weak point either. The classic heavy metal sound needs not only quality riffs but some high quality vocal hooks as well & it’s this area that leaves “Heavy Metal Breakdown” languishing behind the better German debuts. For all the wonderful metal riffage on display, the choruses of most songs are decidedly average with some being downright repulsive. Just check out the song “We Wanna Rock You” for example with it’s chorus of “Wwwweeeeee wanna rock youuuuu….. weeeeeee wanna roll you… roll you”. That’s just total crap, isn’t it, & it’s this element alone that leaves me feeling disappointed at the end of each listening experience.
There was certainly the potential for “Heavy Metal Breakdown” to become somewhat of an underground classic given the sheer heaviness & aggression of this music & the production in particular but the song-writing hasn’t given it a chance with even the best songs on offer failing to capitalize on the quality of the riff assault. The title track is a prime example of what I’m talking about with regards to the vocal hooks as it possesses some great riffs but the chorus seems to give the indication that Grave Digger think their fans are lacking in the intellect department as it’s some lowest common denominator shit in my opinion. The main feeling I'm left with coming out of "Heavy Metal breakdown" is of missed opportunity.
I prefer Di’anno era Maiden to a lot of the Dickinson era if I am honest. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Dickinson as a vocalist but I believe that the first two Iron Maiden Records capture a raw energy of a young band about to leave an obvious and indelible mark on music as whole let alone heavy metal as a genre and Di’anno’s vocals fit this aesthetic perfectly.
My main criticism of the debut seems perhaps harsh or paltry but still has stuck with me since my first listen some 27 years ago and that is the arrangement of the record is a little off for me. ‘Remember Tomorrow’ (great track though it is) sits too early in the track order for me and would a great track for the latter half (or side b if we are going old school) of the record although this would then endanger the impact of ‘Strange World’.
My OCD aside I simply love the content on this record and my only real regret is that I wasn’t around in 1980 to experience the release at the time (I was 4 when this came out). There’s literally 8 memorable and well written tracks here with a feel of real grit to them. Whether it is the grim characters referenced (Phantom Of the Opera, Charlotte the Harlot) or the tangible menace of tracks like ‘Prowler’ or the title track, the sense of threat remains a virtual constant that only gets tempered by the occasional dreamy if not creepy verse of the albums more looming parts.