HATEFUL AGONY, In the Name of God (2008, self-released)

The skull:
This skull is a martyr for all the world’s ills: a crown of thorns (or black stuff that sorta looks like thorns) sits atop his head as he sadly peers down at the futility of it all. Images of religion, money, guns and sheep are obvious or symbolic reminders that no matter what, oppression, greed, violence and conformity are comin’ ta get ya. All in the name of God, apparently.

The music:
These Germans first released music in 1998, and have self-released five albums since that time. This one is their fourth, and it kinda shows why they’ve never been on a label: they’re boring. They play fairly violent thrash with gruff, not-quite-deathly vocals, and everything you hear on the 11 songs of In the Name of God has been done before. Whether it’s a collision of Vio-lence and Kreator (“Son of Sam”) or Any-Given-Bay-Area-Thrash-Band meets Schizophrenia-era Sepultura (everything else), it comes off as competent but hardly mandatory or even important. Their influences can’t be disputed — I’ll gladly listen to all the originals, but Hateful Agony are just the sort of derivative thing I can’t get excited about. Hateful Agony seem a hapless but harmless trio of dudes out for a good time, some brews, and some early slots at mid-level festivals. Apparently they’re not super-ambitious, but hey, they can’t all be Vektor, right?
— Friar Wagner


ARMAGEDDON, The Money Mask (1989, Talkingtown)

The skull:
You have to admire the literality of this cover: the money mask is a decoupage skull made of five dollar bills. Is that supposed to make a statement about Lincoln or something? After all, Armageddon were from Civil War battleground town Falls Church, VA, and one of their guitarists was named Robby Lee. Hmm. Assuming there’s no confederate meaning intended by the cover, if this had been a real arts-and-crafts project (which might have made it the greatest big dumb skull of all time), the decision to use fivers would have made some economic sense, but if you’re commissioning a painting of a money mask, why not go all in? I have it on good authority that it’s all about the Benjamins, baby Jesus.

The music:
Is there a more effective and immediate descriptor to temper expectations than the words, “Christian metal”? Even when it’s good, it’s rarely great, and the good stuff isn’t exactly plentiful. Not unlike contemporaries Saint, Armageddon play a glossy take on mid 80s’ Accept and Priest: generally midpaced and ham-fisted to an Xtreme (the “X” is for Christ). Mike Vance’s melodic voice appealingly recalls Jon Oliva, but his low-end, Dirkschneiderian croak is tough to bear. The playing, songwriting, and production are all eminently professional, but there’s hardly a spark of passion (no pun intended) in this music. The faster numbers work best for me, and “We’re Outa Here” is the album-closing highlight, but all in all, The Money Mask sounds calculated to appeal to “the kids” who weren’t otherwise open to The Good News. I doubt that’s exactly how it happened, but that’s the vibe anyway. As an amusing aside, Joe Hasselvander, of Pentagram and Raven, played in Armageddon for a while, although I’m not sure if he’s on this album. You’ve got to love a guy working both sides of the aisle like that. No matter where he ends up when he dies, he’ll have an album on hand to put him in good graces with the new boss.
— Friar Johnsen