There was a time when Century Media was a shoebox of a record label, with typo-ridden cassette releases, dismal distribution, and no guarantee they wouldn't end up next to JL America on the scrap heap of metal history. For their maiden foray into the United States, in addition to releasing imported obscurities like DESPAIR and RUMBLE MILITIA, they sought a couple homegrown acts to fill out their roster. One was a then-unknown ICED EARTH, and the other was a bruising thrash combo from New York with a pair of well-received demos under their belts and a sound as subtle as their name… DEMOLITION HAMMER.They never made much headway while they were around, fizzling out in the mid-90's and briefly resurfacing in the public eye when original drummer and well-loved tattoo artist Vinny Daze died unexpectedly in 1996. But DEMOLITION HAMMER has always had a cult following attracted to their masterful thrash. They weren't innovators, that was never the point, but put 'em on the same tier as, say, DEVASTATION -- a band that took what was going on around them in the metal scene of the day, added just a hint of their own style, and then upped the ante tenfold in terms of sheer rabid attack. It might be stretching the point a little bit, but in the wild-eyed, full-throttle assault of their debut, "Tortured Existence", you could say the seeds were being sown for the brutal metal/hardcore meld of bands like HATEBREED and ALL OUT WAR. At the very least, they were a gritty east-coast answer to early EXODUS, violent and punishing without benefit of funny shorts or novelty cover songs. In a time when the underground was moving on to death and then black metal, and thrash's big guns were clambering up to the next level and, shall we say, getting a little confused about their roots, DEMOLITION HAMMER was making a case for brick-heaving, remorseless speed delivered with energy, savagery and no regrets. It's hard to pick out one factor that made "Tortured Existence" so crucial. Steve Reynolds has this frenzied, ranting bark of a vocal that makes it sound like he's about to snap at any second, and that certainly propels things along nicely. It helped, too, that the band's lyrics could veer a little left-of-center at times, delivering the usual death-and-mayhem in surprising ways – when Reynolds ends "Hydrophobia" with the gasping decree "YOUR LAST MORTAL HOURS SPENT BOUND TO A POST!" he sounds positively desperate, like he's been clawing at that damned post himself, insane from rabies in the hot sun, and his fingers are scraped to bloody nubs. Reynolds and Derek Sykes were friggin' riff machines, too, spitting out chunky breakdowns, full-speed thrash verses and surprisingly expressive soloing with equal skill. Daze and bassist James Reilly were no slouches, either, Reilly getting in some nice licks in "Cataclysm" and "Hydrophobia" that make the songs. Daze's snare occasionally disappears in the murk of the Scott Burns budget-plan production that remains the biggest millstone around the neck of "Tortured Existence", but his skillful playing is insistent and forceful, tasteful enough to stay out of the way of the vocal lines and to deliver hammering fills when needed. Of course, death metal was really taking off around this time, and many of the lower-level thrash bands were fizzling out. DEMOLITION HAMMER's response to this turn of events was to come out with "Epidemic of Violence" in 1992 — a quantum leap over "Tortured Existence" on every level. Death it might not be, but no one was gonna deny the fist-to-the-face intensity of this band. The production is infinitely clearer, the drums almost too loud now, Reynolds so up-front and larynx-shreddingly pissed-off you expect to find bloody gobbets of spitty flesh spraying in a fine mist from your speakers. The songs are faster and leaner, the riffs even more lethally laser-focused, angrily downpicked carpal-tunnel caffeine outbursts that make you grit your teeth and grimace just listening to them. This is high-caliber, head-exploding thrash metal for the 90's that should have, by sheer violent force, should have put off the lemming-like demise of that scene by another year or two. But it was too late in the game, or the label was too small to get the word out, or maybe it's like the old ad slogan went – some music was meant to stay underground. Looking back, it seems stupid that anyone into DEICIDE or ENTOMBED at the time would willingly pass on "Epidemic of Violence" because it wasn't "death enough", but there's no accounting for tastes or trends. By 1994, the band seemed largely forgotten. It was a surprise, then, to see the release of "Time Bomb", minus the Flintstones logo and half of the classic lineup. Reynolds, Sykes and journeyman badass drummer Alex Marquez (MALEVOLENT CREATION, Florida's SOLSTICE) had holed up and written themselves some new material, allegedly intended as a different project, that bowed to the prevailing winds of the time a bit. Remember, this was in that post-PANTERA, post-MACHINE HEAD world — Michael Whelan horror-comic artwork was out, grainy photos of bleak industrial grit and extreme close-ups of machinery were in. "Time Bomb" lost the speed that made "Epidemic of Violence" so neck-snappingly satisfying, trading it for muscled-down midtempo tough-guy riffing and samples from cop movies. The results weren't bad at all — the drubbing this record gets from some thrash purists is simply not fair or accurate – but it's just not the same, and it already sounds a little dated, almost too simple and dumbed-down for its own good. If the book report above didn't clue you in, I'm a fan, and I'm ecstatically glad this music is in print again, in any format. That said, this coulda been a much better release. There are no live photos, no liner notes from the band members themselves, and the "bonus material" consists of two pre-production demos from "Time Bomb" and one video clip. Label prez Marco Barbieri offers a diplomatic explanation for the lack of frills in his short liner notes, while Derek Sykes's considerably less cordial take on things can be found on the band's Myspace page — whatever the reason, it's a shame from a fan's perspective that this reissue couldn't have contained a third disc of unreleased songs, or the "Skull Fracturing Nightmare" and "Necrology" demos. The lack of attention to detail that allowed Steve Reynolds to be credited variously as "John Reynolds" and "Steve Reilly" in the booklet is pretty lame, too — if you're entrusted with curating metal history, a little basic proofreading isn't too much to ask. But fuck it — for the first time in over a decade, you can walk into a record store and find something, anything, from DEMOLITION HAMMER on the shelf. That alone is a cause to crack a beer and rejoice at loud volumes. With the retro thrash revival of late, it'd be nice to see some of you youngsters dig into this second tier of bands, the ones who tried to keep the thrash flame burning against insurmountable odds and stuck to their guns releasing high-quality output when so many of their comrades jumped ship and started playing funk-metal or grunge. DEMOLITION HAMMER's stubborn tenacity was matched by their songwriting ability and sheer bludgeoning fury, and their underrated legacy deserves a second look from the metal world.
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