Fight Fire with Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
Today we look back at two very early documents of extremity, Hellhammer’s Hall of Fame-inducted Apocalyptic Raids EP and Bathory’s self-titled debut LP, both from 1984. These are two beloved records, and for good reason: they both rule, and for the time they were both jaw-droppingly heavy. Be it early black, proto-sludge, unhinged thrash, aspirations of higher artistry or drunken scuzzbucket NWOBHM flirtations, it’s all here between those two releases.
But, one is always better. Will it be Hellhammer’s legendary chaos or Bathory’s trailblazing blackness?
Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
So, we all know the story of Tom Warrior’s early years following the siren call of extremity, a path the man admirably continues on to this day. And it all starts here, with Hellhammer’s 1984 Apocalyptic Raids EP (well, it started with some demos a year prior, but, still).
Make no mistake, Apocalyptic Raids is a mess, and it’s a mess of the absolute best kind: when I listen to this EP, I hear nothing but pure, unfiltered passion in pursuit of creating art that hadn’t been heard before. Sure, the vocals are a headache for some of it, but I love every second of these four songs.
“The Third of the Storms (Evoked Damnation)” kicks things off with a punk-infested tempo, horrid-guy vox, and some soon-to-be classic Warrior riffing. The punk edge is downplayed a bit when we talk about this album, but slap some different vocals on this and it could easily slide into the setlist of a Discharge/Motörhead tour regional opener. But, greater things awaited Hellhammer as the band lays down twisted-up proto-blackthrash here, things just going faster and uglier for “Massacra,” the band having no idea what they’re doing, but doing it with absolute intent and purpose.
The chaos continues unabated into “Triumph of Death,” where things take a turn for the gnarly with the vocals (remember I said they’re a headache for some of the EP? I was referring to this song) as the band sludges forth, proving that heaviness can come at a trudging tempo as well as a fast one. The song is a monolith, a sloppy take on proto-sludge filtered through black and thrash sounds. It pushes its luck with the runtime, but it’s ambitious and experimental, so we still give it two horns up.
The chaotic drum intro to “Horus/Aggressor” seals the deal before the song even gets started. And, man, as that final song comes to an end, I’m thinking that something that really doesn’t get discussed is that the whole EP carries with it a very serious sense of artistic grandeur, warts and all. We tend to focus on the sloppiness, the chaos, the noise; what should be looked at more is the vibe underneath all that, which is Hellhammer trying to create something with meaning, something that can be called art but can also be the heaviest sound around for the time. There’s a second layer to this EP that is rarely talked about, and it revolves around intention, and it makes me realize there’s more to this EP than its trashcan speed-stumble to the finish line lets on. There’s art trying to crawl out from the chaos.
Bathory – Bathory
Now, we move on to Quorthon’s excellent debut offering, Bathory’s self-titled full-length. This classic piece of early black is well-regarded for good reason: all these years later, it still absolutely shreds.
“Hades” kicks things off with seriously raging punked-up proto-black, production paper thin but adding to the charm, no bass in sight, Bathory’s Venom-loving approach to extremity immediately obvious and immediately awesome.
“Necromansy” solidifies a strength in mid-to-speedy tempo solid HM, while “Sacrifice” closes off the original side A with a fun take on the sleazy side of NWOBHM while ending up solidly at early black, Bathory not really getting the recognition they deserve on this album for being, well… fun. But this is a fun song, one that rages all the way to the finish line but does so with a deranged smirk.
The fun continues on side B, with songs like the excellent “Armageddon” being nothing short of adrenaline being injected straight into my earholes, “Raise the Dead” being, again, a very Venomesque take on grim proto-black that is a total blast to listen to, every time.
Bathory’s debut is a fantastic and important piece of early extreme metal, and it still sounds fresh and gets me ready for attack every time I spin it, from the punk fury of “Reaper” to the surprising wake-up-call glory ride of closer “War.” This album definitely laid the groundwork for much black metal to follow, and even though it was pretty clearly taking a lot of influence from Venom, it had less camp and more seriousness to the playing than that unholy trio did, paving the way for a never-ending stream of ultra-serious BM bands in years to come.
Like Hellhammer’s EP, no one is listening to this record to hear virtuoso playing (although great riffs abound, on both records) or songwriting. It’s all in the vibe, the spirit, the bigger picture atmosphere. This one doesn’t have the importance and aspiration to its sounds that Hellhammer’s EP does, but it does keep the party raging harder, Bathory inviting the listener back any time, the door is always open; the door has actually born torn off its hinges, laid to waste, completely annihilated.
These two records are both an absolute joy to immerse yourself in, even all these years later. They don’t even add up to an hour’s worth of music between the two of them, but that brevity works for both releases.
However, we must pick a winner, and because of the boundary-pushing, because of the fact that the EP just sounds like an uphill battle, because it was extremely early for extreme metal to have aspirations toward extreme art, that winner is Apocalyptic Raids.