The brilliant melodies of Iron Maiden and Metallica opened the door to metal for a young Diabolus. But it was the timeless riffs, redline intensity, and searing speed of Reign in Blood that pushed me through it. In the back of my mind, the dragon of Reign in Blood’s speed is always being chased because of this. The viciousness of Slayer‘s finest (half) hour complemented its speed, and even today it sounds an order of magnitude faster than your garden variety blast-happy tech-death typewriter-core band. It reminds me of the difference between [allegedly] speeding down a road in your car and speeding through the sky much faster in a passenger jet; the jet’s faster, but the visceral thrill is lacking. As arguably old thrash’s greatest achievement, it’s a tough thing to nail, but Polish metallers Ragehammer aim to show that new dogs can learn those old tricks on their debut The Hammer Doctrine.
In a stroke of good fortune, I quickly found out that Ragehammer sounds like their name. This is old black metal in the same way that Satanic Slaughter’s Land of the Unholy Souls was: death metal influenced and hugely aggressive. While I’d be fairly content with some good ol’ Satanic Slaughter worship, The Hammer Doctrine improves things by bringing Witchery’s knack for incredibly fun yet still quintessentially metal riffs that were especially prevalent on their first two records. Given that these particular Witchery records are basically more metal-oriented and competent versions of early Venom’s vision, that Black Metal band can be rightly called an influence here too. Fellow hammer fiends Deathhammer’s German thrash fascination makes an appearance as well, as do hints of Destroyer 666. The Hammer Doctrine seems to teach that speed is king, only riffs are real, and the only metal worth playing is the metal of your anti-poseur forbears.
If any of the above sounds interesting to you, Ragehammer will make you very happy because they do that and absolutely nothing else on The Hammer Doctrine. Opening “First Wave Black Metal” with loud feedback and the fun aggression of Witchery at Satanic Slaughter’s speed, it hits all of the right notes. “I Am the Tyrant” plays like an extended Witchery take on more straightforward black metal, retaining the hooky melodies but not eschewing the intensity in a quality merger of Teutonic thrash and black metal. During “Warlord’s Fall” Ragehammer insists on driving the point home that they happened to playing a great riff clearly influenced by Hellhammer by having vocalist Heretik Hellstörm scream “remember what Warrior said…only death is real” and promptly adding a classic “ugh!” in there. That Ragehammer has zero pretensions to be anything but a metal band at all times taps into the same aesthetics as Deathhammer, making The Hammer Doctrine, like Evil Power, a ton of unpretentious fun.
The weaknesses on The Hammer Doctrine are few and far between. Each song has piles of riffs, and the odd closing number, a cover of “Spotkanie z Diablem” by Polish singer-songwriter Krzysztof Klenczon, even manages to impress. Corpsebutcher’s bass pumped up to challenge Seance’s Saltrubbed Eyes at the eternal contest to put a distorted bass as high in the mix as possible, and it fits the music shockingly well. M. of Mgla fame handled mixing and mastering duties here, and while the DR score is somewhat low the music is framed well enough that it’s difficult to care. “Knives” has a somewhat unnecessary “whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh” vocal bit that’s slightly off-key, but three seconds of mild yet amusing irritation does not a damning flaw make. There’s little variation between songs, so if you’re not paying attention The Hammer Doctrine can achieve the Dragonforce or war metal effect of having three or more songs sound like one long track, but it’s hard to be upset by this when that one song happens to be really damn good.
The Hammer Doctrine isn’t perfect, but it’s entertaining throughout its entire duration. Ragehammer have nailed the mark for metal being fun, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Ragehammer doesn’t sing about a stifling and crowded club with an audience in a perpetual circle pit, they play the music that would cause it. Ragehammer doesn’t sound like a cynical cash-in on retro-fetishism, but rather like a group of dudes who see the pinnacle of the genre in the primitive ass-kickings of old and want to contribute to that lineage themselves. While The Hammer Doctrine can’t justifiably be called a new classic, I’ll be listening to frequently this year and enjoying it each and every time. It’s hard to go wrong with quality songwriting and a tried and true sound, but Ragehammer do us one better: they convincingly succeed.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Pagan Records
Websites: The Internet is for Poseurs
Releases Worldwide: April 8th, 2016