RETALIADOR, Ultra Violência (2006, demo)
A second skull from Retaliador, this one a little more typical than the last. I must admit, I miss the silly hat. But, you can’t argue with a proper hammersmashing, I guess. What I like most here is the crazy extension of the lower jaw. It’s the usual case of an artist not really thinking about how bones movie to produce the shapes you see in real, fleshclad bodies. If this guy actually closed his jaw, he’d have an underbite to rival Popeye’s, and this guy also has to contend with fangs. It’s not so much ultra violência this guy needs, but ultra orthodoncia.
As on the demo Friar Wagner reviewed yesterday, this one trades mostly in mid 80s thrash riffs of the sort those endearingly inept Germans stumbled through. Without having heard that demo, I can still say that Retaliador probably got better in the interim. This is not polished stuff, but it’s still fairly advanced from the almost comically sloppy playing on the earliest Sodom and Kreator recordings. For the oldschoolers who love this throwback crap, that might be a problem, and for those of us whose baseline standards for execution were set in the later, more professional 80s, this is still too messy to be good. No one wins! But, if for some reason you’re still jonesing for Retaliador, this demo and a bunch of other stuff was collected on CD in 2012, although if you’re listening to this on disc and not tape, all your friends will know you’re totally untr00.
— Friar Johnsen
HAMMER HEAD, Rock Forever (1987, Power Outage)
The dudes in Tacoma’s Hammer Head were sitting around one rainy day in 1987 chugging cans of Olympia beer and listening to Thor when they came up with the metalhead’s alternative to the Rock, Paper, Scissors game. They called it Rock, Hammer, Skull, and while the specifics of the rules are still being hammered out (no pun intended) decades later, they do know that the outcome of the game is always the same: rock wins, because rock is forever. As seen from the panel of the game instructions the band used for their album cover, it has been determined that hammer smashes skull. We’re not sure what the official game rules state regarding the specific powers and weaknesses of the skull, but we’re pretty sure they’ll be releasing the final rules booklet for Rock, Hammer, Skull any year now. And please note the innovative use of pink…probably an attempt to attract the women-folk.
In a nutshell, Hammer Head sounds a lot like Anvil in the Metal Blade years (Strength of Steel, Pound for Pound) without the ability to craft memorable songs. Even the vocals are Lips-esque, here draped in a chilly fog of reverb, just enough to keep it from sounding dry. The drums have a similarly processed/effected sound, while the guitars crank out in standard-issue ’80s heavy metal style without much in the way of unique personality. While Hammer Head’s songs are dull in their composition, the execution gets plus points thanks to the tasty guitar work of Greg Martin. I’ll bet if Mike Shrapnel had heard this guy back in the day, he would have signed Hammer Head based on Martin’s work alone. Certainly not for the songs, but Shrapnel were not always concerned about songs as much as having another kickass guitarist was in the house. A song like “Point Nine” has absolutely nothing going for it other than the lead work, while the title track is a plodder in the vein of Anvil’s “Strength of Steel.” “Stone Cold Crazy” is not the Queen song of the same name; it sounds like Ultimate Sin-era Ozzy in the verses, and, again, Anvil in the chorus. “Angel” is a worthless ballad, not because ballads are automatically worthless (they’re not), but because it’s a worthless ballad. “Holocaust” is an acoustic guitar-led semi-epic, but its cock-rock delivery and cheeseball sound effects are not very holocausty. Ultimately Hammer Head should be given credit for attempting to craft a fairly diverse album, but lacking any discernible vision and without much songwriting acumen, they’re doomed to be remembered by the small handful of metal fans who will eat up any US metal band that released an album on a tiny label in the 1980s. Probably goes for $300 on eBay.
— Friar Wagner
VIRAL LOAD, Bashed Fucking Skull (1997, demo)
My uncle has always been an early adopter type. Whatever was the hot new gadget, he got it, and made the most out of it. In the early days of PCs, he was fond of a program called Print Shop. It was a primitive graphics package primarily used to create greeting cards and flyers for bake sales and other ephemera. Early versions were, of course, monochrome and designed for use with dot matrix printers. Anyway, we would often get birthday cards or whatnot created in Print Shop, in all their stock graphics glory. You couldn’t do a lot with Print Shop, and Photo Shop it most certainly wasn’t, and pretty quickly a seasoned user of the software would find himself creating basically the same images as everyone else, because basically you had no choice. Print Shop lived on through the early days of color inkjet printers, but it eventually proved so limiting (and its output so ghastly) that it faded into the mists of pre-internet legend. But I guess at least one person was still using it in 1997, because this cover, with its plastic images, the corny squished skulls on the back of the J-card, the bizarre phantasmagoria of a background, the shitty extruded font, etc., could only have been made in Print Shop. I applaud that last, lonely user, who in his DIY zeal to get his music heard, conceived and delivered unto this world a Big Dumb Skull as gloriously stupid as this. The world is unlikely to see finer in these late technodystopian days.
Oh man, I am totally psyched for this. Eastern European heavy metal at its finest. Lemme just cue this up and hit play… Uh. Wait. There must be some mistake. This doesn’t appear to be the decades-late Croatian answer to Tygers of Pan Tang. This is some kind of shitty brutal death metal? With a drum machine? What the fuck? Now the cover doesn’t make sense AT ALL. This is the sort of idiot gore metal that demands a cover of, I dunno, lacerated tits or something. Something that combines pimply misogyny with a ton of blood. This cover isn’t going to offend anyone (except those last few old ladies still clutching their pearls at swear words) and it utterly fails to represent Viral Load honestly. Then again, if you really knew what you were in for, you’d never listen to this, so maybe the Trojan Horse strategy was a wise one. Sucker people in with the promise of totally unironic metal and then when they least expect it, BAM, you hit them with your half-assed Skinless worship. That’s almost certainly giving Viral Load too much credit for cleverness, but literally nothing else could possibly explain the marriage of this music and this cover. It’s a fucked-up world, though.
— Friar Johnsen