There’s something fun in routine. When I hang out with certain friends, we do a similar set of activities, normally involving good beer and some metal albums. Ostensibly, these nights are largely the same – but none of us will claim that all of them are equal. So too with records from bands whose output remains happily stagnant over the years. Like many evenings with these friends, Deathhammer records contain the same elements and essentials, thankfully never deviating because I like what’s going on. Chained to Hell is another Deathhammer record that can be mistaken for nothing else, with everything that makes a Deathhammer record tick present. While sometimes it’s good to step outside of the comfort zone, standbys remain standbys for a reason.
What’s always been appealing about Deathhammer is their remarkably particular niche, one which nobody really knows they need until they hear it. Take the earliest Sodom and Slayer material, and pretend a band existed alongside them which kept more of the speed metal influence around and played their music with all the tact and professionalism of early Venom and you have a good idea of what to expect. Sure, there’s the blackened tag here (think Aura Noir et al), but this sounds like it developed out of the tiny corner of our chosen genre above instead of being imported in. Delightfully old-fashioned, this is fast, loose, and fun metal.
Description of anything is also subtly an endorsement of and emphasis on certain qualities. With what’s above, the song I’m most predisposed to like here is “Threshold of Doom,” which begins on a great little riff that sounds like something that didn’t quite fit on Haunting the Chapel stylistically because it’s a bit too speed metal-y, but was too aggressively dirty to fit on Show No Mercy. This is my top track on the album, but there are other highlights. “Rabid Maniac Force” opens up Chained to Hell with the pedal to the floor, frantically rampaging with speed metal fury. Riffs are crammed full of notes until they’re ready to burst, giving off an infectious energy. “Satan’s Hell” finds a nice balance between old thrash and speed metal, with the chorus being one of those bizarrely catchy Deathhammer hooks: effective chords, manic vocals, and a whirlwind of percussion.
Chained to Hell is fun, and it’s hard not to like. With that in mind, something’s missing that wasn’t on predecessor Evil Power. It’s not like Deathhammer have forgotten how to play or write songs in their narrow niche; on the contrary, they’re still going strong. There’s no song that’s outright bad, but overall Chained to Hell relies a bit too much on speed metal elements that don’t complement the vocal approach as well as the thrashier material does. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s the only one I can think of that explains why I’ll reach for Evil Power ahead of Chained to Hell virtually every time I want to blast some Deathhammer. The title track goes a bit too far towards speed metal on the speed/thrash scale, and it sounds like Deathhammer is holding themselves back, not allowing what’s essentially a straightforward speed metal song to flourish as one because the thrash influences need to be there.
This can all be chalked up to my personal preferences and how I want Deathhammer to sound. This mixture of influences can, and likely will, hit just the right spot for fans who like different elements in their sound than I do. As such, this entire review will serve those who thought Evil Power was Deathhammer’s high water mark well and make little sense to anyone else. Like Asphyx, the quality is such that each of their records is defensibly a favourite of someone’s. The important takeaways, in my view, are these. First, the production is exactly the same; roughshod with truly live drums, guitar that screams like a demon unleashed from the amp, and bass that pokes its head out from time to time. Second, vocals are still hilariously great or hilariously bad, depending on how much you like the idea of Tom Araya being afflicted with some strange malady that makes him unable to contain his screeching for any significant amount of time (I’m a fan, for the record). Third, this is high energy stuff with blazing riffing. Finally, it’s firmly in line stylistically with all previous Deathhammer jaunts, with the qualitative differences being matters of opinion and degree. Worth a spin, at the very least.