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HELLHAMMER- Satanic Rites Demo Tape (Prowling Death Records, Switzerland, 1983)

VENOM had set in motion some kind of movement that soon was bigger than its originators, but it took a few years before they were dethroned.
In 1981, I had seen the «In League with Satan» Single on display at my local record shop. The cover was promising so much and when I bought the 7″ from my pocket money, I was not disappointed in the slightest. AC/DC, Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Nina Hagen, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Blondie, Queen – I was sucking up music like a sponge. Some people at this age are sensitive to music, others to drugs or whatnot. My body was a vibrating  guitar string. VENOM was just the right thing at the right time. We all played these two albums up and down, up and down and even with bands like DISCHARGE, VENOM seemed just supernatural. It sounds so silly now, but back then, that’s how I was affected. Not for one second, you had to religious, believe in a christian concept like “Satan” – the shock value worked just fine and you’d piss off people with pentagrams and 666 just as good as with mohawks and stuff. VENOM was the real stuff – until in 1983, a small but very very effective array of records like “Kill em all”, “Show no Mercy”, “Heavy Metal Maniac”, “One Nation Underground” or “Dirty rotten EP” was unleashed. And one demo tape .

I don’t remember exactly who it was to introduce me to HELLHAMMER, but it was right after “Triumph of Death” was released, the 2nd version of the first demo (“Death Fiend”). I liked “Triumph of Death” and I especially liked the cover artwork, with the guy hanging by a tree. That was in fact a slightly altered book cover (of swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt, who posthumously got popular in the U.S. through the movie “The Pledge”, based on one of his books and screenplay), which I didn’t know back then, but nevertheless, it totally worked for me. I also loved the fact that Switzerland with “Triumph of Death” had its own VENOM now, but of course, the original remained untouched by it.
In December of 1983, VENOM were supposed to play Zürich. Due to poor ticket sales, the gig got canceled and instead, VENOM held a press conference in the Hotel Nova Park. There was not much press around, but about two or three dozen black leather jackets showed up, among them, as you have read in Fischer’s “Only Death is real”, the Hellhammer gang. The press conference was a complete desaster. VENOM turned out to be anything but what everybody was expecting. Just a bunch of rather ordinary lads, dressed in sweatpants and loudmouthed but insecure. Fischer had the right instinct: He inserted the “Triumph of Death” demo into some cassette player and asked VENOM’s opinion. They were not amused at all.
So expectations were high for the next HELLHAMMER demo and before I received my copy, I heard that it totally blows away the old tape (which all of a sudden was withdrawn). And these rumors were absolutely true: With “Satanic Rites”, it was more than obvious that HELLHAMMER had set the new standard in Black Metal (this term was very loosely used back then – the genre definitions were still in progress). One of the first questions I heard of Fischer was if I thought “Satanic Rites” is more brutal than SODOM. That was absolutely no question – and VENOM were out of the game, so to say. The catastrophic “7 Dates of Hell” tour (together with the stunning METALLICA) sealed VENOM’s fate: To a lot of people my generation, the band died with “At War with Satan”, not only due to the record’s inconsistence, but also due to the fact that HELLHAMMER had stepped out of VENOM’s shadow and made the band, well, disposable (of course, from today’s perspective, the first two VENOM albums are absolute landmarks and among my personal favorites).

Earlier this year, the guy named Mike Owens (he does not want to see his real in public; by the way the name Owens was meant as a tribute to the early socialist and entrepreneur Robert Owen) sat at my kitchen table and we talked about the old days. Mike was the 2nd bass player in HELLHAMMER, hired after Fischer had kicked out Steve Warrior. That’s how I originally met Mike.
I knew that it’s a tasty subject he doesn’t really like to talk about; he moved on with his life and when he was in HELLHAMMER, he was very young. But somehow, we started talking about his days in HELLHAMMER. Immediately before the “Satanic Rites” sessions took place, Mike left the band. “You know, looking back, it was the best thing for the band”, Mike said to my surprise. He was and is a technically really good musician and he co-arranged some of the songs on “Satanic Rites”. “But the problem was that I played so much better bass than Fischer played guitar, the whole thing didn’t rock. The songs sounded totally different when I played bass: I would always try and make my playing more dominant or simply respond to the guitar riffs. I think that’s part of what pissed Fischer off.”
We drank coffee after coffee. “You know,”, Mike said, “the song “Messiah” for instance is so much better without bass. And that goes for every other song on the demo: The missing bass-lines make these songs sound a lot more extensive and radical. Traditional rock music needs bass. But this demo was the blueprint for a new form of extreme music, something that years later got picked up by bands like DARKTHRONE. Reducing music can make it so much more radical. That’s the secret of “Satanic Rites”: My missing bass playing.”

Fischer’s vocals, the simple guitar riffing, the amateurish drums, the idiotic lyrics (before Martin Ain took care of things and gave the band some intellectual depth): It’s one of these magic moments in the history of recorded music when all weaknesses come together as strength and transcend into something very unique, very volatile.
I was in the band’s practice room in the very final days of HELLHAMMER and then a few times, just weeks later, when CELTIC FROST arose like a phoenix from the ashes. With the addition of a new drummer (Steve)  and bassist (Martin), something very astounding had happened. Even to my young and not too experienced ears, it was evident that the new band was nothing like HELLHAMMER anymore.


What you see above is the original demo. 200 covers were printed (kinda glossy paper; actual offset printing, not xerox) but less than 200 tapes were copied. A few people, distributors, got a stack of covers and a mastertape and copied for themselves. I had like, I don’t know, maybe 5 or 10 and it took me a while to get rid of them: People normally just shook their head and laughed when I played it.

The Third of the Storms.mp3
Buried and forgotten.mp3
Triumph of Death.mp3
Revelations (Of Doom).mp3
Satanic Rites.mp3