HELLHAMMER! Even after so many years it’s still kinda difficult to express my feelings about this legendary Swiss act. Originally hated by most of the magazines and not really understood by a lot of Metal fans of that period either, the band simply came up with something so special and unique that it took the underground scene several years to fully understand and appreciate what this unholy trinity had created. I personally discovered the band pretty late, when they had just released the "Satanic Rites" demo, but that little cassette literally left me speechless and turned me into a diehard fan right from the start. I can’t really recall anymore how often I had played those songs at the time and even though the music is so primitive, it never lost its magic on me! That particular feeling returned with full force when the extremely cool "Demon Entrails" release came out most recently (see review section for all necessary details about it!), so I figured the timing to finally come up with an in-depth HELLHAMMER interview was right and checked out our possibilities… Much to our surprise bassplayer Martin Ain agreed to answer our questions! So, several hours of research went into the preparation of what was supposed to become the most detailed HELLHAMMER interview in quite some time… but in the end Martin’s answers unfortunately turned out rather disappointing, as he seemed more interested in promoting Tom’s upcoming HELLHAMMER book ("Only Death Is Real") than taking the time to get us a little bit of historical information first hand here… Oh well, here’s the result anyway…
Greetings Martin, hope you’re doing fine?! How does it feel to still do interviews about HELLHAMMER so many years after the band ceased to exist…
"Thank you Frank, it feels good. I mean it’s been a while and in many ways that chapter of our career has not been really dealt with the way that I thought it should have been."
When it comes to Tom’s first musical activities, I suppose we gotta go back in time quite a bit and start with TAROT and GRAVE HILL here… So, who was in TAROT’s line-up together with Tom, what kind of style did they play and how long did the band exit?
"Tarot and Grave Hill where basically the same (we are talking about a time span of less then a year in 1981). Members at that time where: Tom Fischer (bass / guitar), Alfredo “Stonehead” Pappalardo (bass), Alois “Jay Blackwood” Wendelin (drums), Philipp “Phil Hunter” Veraguth (vocals), Urs (to become “Steve Warrior”) Sprenger (vocals). They tried to play Heavy Metal."
Tom then continued on in GRAVE HILL… From what I’ve read, that band only lasted for about six months in 1981 and already featured Tom and his brother Steve… Do you know who else was in the line-up and why they split up again so quickly? Was that band musically different from TAROT in any way?
"For f**ks sake Frank, it was a bunch of kids that knew each other from school and their apprenticeships. They tried emulating other bands and where still learning how to master their instruments. Tarot did not even have a rehearsal room and Tarot, Grave Hill and Hammerhead where all sketches of what then should become Hellhammer. Why did individual members join and leave within days, weeks or at maximum months? Maybe because their parents thought that they should focus on their homework instead of hanging out with a bunch of long haired freaks, maybe they found a girl friend and thought it more comfortable getting laid then learning how to tune a guitar, maybe some where just lazy."
Did TAROT or GRAVE HILL ever record anything, like rehearsal tapes and / or demos maybe?
In May of 1982 HELLHAMMER finally was formed (still as HAMMERHEAD) by Tom ("Satanic Slaughter" – on guitar and vocals), his brother Steve ("Savage Damage" – on bass and vocals) and a drummer named Pete Stratton, who only lasted in the band for a couple of months until he got replaced by Bruce "Bloodhunter" Day from the band MOORHEAD… From what I’ve read Pete’s playing abilities weren’t satisfying enough… Is that true?
"Well Frank, you seem to know quite a lot about Hellhammer’s becoming. I think it is appropriate to mention, that within the next year we will release a book that will answer all these questions and many more. The book will be titled “Only Death Is Real”. It will deal with the becoming of Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost and it will start with Adam and Eve, at the very beginning of things. Tom has written an 80+ page (A4) manuscript that includes the view points of all key members of these formations, Tom Gabriel Fischer, Steve Warrior, Bruce Day, Stephen Priestly and yours truly Martin Eric Ain. All line up details will be disclosed in detail. We have about 400 period photographs that we can choose from (and we’d like to release them all), dozens of logos, drawings, etc. that will find their way into this publication. I would therefore like to refer you to this ultimate Bible of all things morbid in Switzerland in regard of your detailed questions. To answer your question, I was not present at any Grave Hill rehearsals. I’ve got to meet Peter “Pete Stratton” Ebneter, but I never heard him play the drums. I was told that he wasn’t exactly John Bonham or Bill Ward though."
Could you give us a little bit of additional info about Pete nevertheless, like what he had been doing prior to joining HAMMERHEAD, how he hooked up with Tom and if he ever did anything musically afterwards?
"Please see my answer above, you should talk to Tom about questions in regard of Tarot and Grave Hill, since I wasn’t present at this time."
Who actually invented those stage names, at which point of time exactly and what was Pete’s?
"Pete’s stage name was Pete Stratton, his real name was Peter Ebneter. Once again you should ask Tom, or better even wait for the book and then see what questions still remain."
How does a name like Peter Ebneter fit into all this? From what I’ve read he also used to be a member of the band at one point…
"Please see the answer to question number 7 for this."
What about MOORHEAD? Could you give us a bit of info about that band as well here?
"No Idea! Never seen them never heard them. Once again… ask Tom."
A few months later HAMMERHEAD got re-named to HELLHAMMER… What were the reasons for this?
"Because Tom and Steve where not pleased with their initial naming of the band. It was not radical enough, not dark. After all these guys wanted to top Venom."
Could you clear up the confusion about the "Death Fiend" / "Triumph Of Death" demos a bit here? From what I understood, "Death Fiend" was supposed to be the band’s debut demo, but for some reason it didn’t get released officially and so some of the songs ended up on "Triumph Of Death" instead… Is that correct? So, why was "Death Fiend" not released back then?
"Have you already seen the "Demon Entrails" release? The deluxe CD version as well as the triple vinyl edition feature a booklet that has the answer to this: “Hellhammer originally intended to first release a nine-song demo titled “Death Fiend”. It was to comprise music written during the early days of the band. Subsequently, however, it was decided to abandon “Death Fiend”, in spite of the fact that the cassette covers had already been printed, and to release the second demo “Triumph Of Death”, instead. “Triumph Of Death” contained newer songs and utilized almost identical artwork for its cassette cover. The official edition of the “Triumph Of death” demo cassette numbered approximately 30 to 40 copies. The Prowlin’ Death Records catalogue number of the “Triumph Of Death” demo cassette was PDR 002, the catalogue number of the unreleased “Death Fiend” demo cassette was PDR 001.” The same subject will of course be dealt with in much more detail in the book."
Is it true that the band had booked an ad for "Triumph Of Death" in Kerrang magazine at the time that more or less got the ball rolling internationally…?
"Not exactly, Tom had placed an ad in the personals section in which he was requesting solicitations from “Witches” and mentioned the existence of the “Occult Metal Trio Hellhammer”. That helped to get the ball rolling."
After the recording session of "Triumph Of Death" Steve was fired from the band. The official statement at the time was pretty harsh: "His miserable singing and playing can be heard on the "Triumph Of Death" cassette. He never believed in and worked for the band like the other members…" Was it really a split because of musical reasons? I mean, neither Tom nor Bruce were good musicians at the time either, so…
"True, but Steve was worse! Although he was great guy and a very creative person, he wasn’t really into rehearsing and worst of all he did have no timing and feeling for tonality."
Steve then got replaced by new bassplayer Mike "Grim Decapitator" Owens… How did Mike get into the picture and what can you tell us about his previous band VIOLENCE?
"What the Hell, I think we should have released the book already, then this would not be necessary. Well we are negotiating, short of closing deal with a known publisher. Mike was one of the few Metal heads in the Zuerich area that was into the NWOBH and the rising Thrash movement from the States. He knew Venom and was very much into Exciter, he also had the Metallica “No Life ‘Til Leather” demo and he could play bass and guitar, more so then most of us, which seemed to make him perfect."
I own a HELLHAMMER rehearsal from Summer 1983 that mentions Mike Baum as the band’s bassplayer… Is Mike Baum the same guy as Mike Owens?
Considering that there was hardly any brutal bands at the time one of the main musical influences must have been VENOM, wasn’t it? But what else lead to the sound that slowly but surely evolved into the unmistakeable HELLHAMMER style? I read about NWOBHM acts like ANGEL WITCH and ARAGORN, but they were by no means as heavy as VENOM, so it seems a little weird…
"Discharge! Something that would not be mentioned in the early days, since it was very much uncool to be into Punk when one was a Headbanger. Steve Warrior was a total Punk. He always wore an Exploited T-Shirt and constantly listened to Discharge and the Anti Nowhere League. He even formed his on Icelandic Hardcore Punk outfit Kötzen after he got sacked from Hellhammer. Btw. the first Aragorn 7” at the time seemed almost as heavy to us as Venom. You should not forget, that there was no xxtreme Metal scene!!! The most extreme were Venom, Motörhead, Raven, Mercyful Fate and none of these bands are anything like what we hear nowadays in Black and Death Metal. The US Thrash movement was at its very beginning with Exciter from Canada, Slayer had not released "Show No Mercy", Metallica had only released their demo, etc. Although new bands and records got released by the month and the entire Metal scene was exploding within the first 5 years of the eighties."
In October 1983, during the writing process for the "Satanic Rites" demo, drummer Bruce "Bloodhunter" Day quit the band… there was talk that he joined a Motorcycle club or something… Can you tell us more about that?
"Did I mention the book? Guess what, this episode is in there as well. Bruce was always taken by motorbikes and his “dutys” in a local wannabe MC were taking up a lot of his time that should have gone into the band instead."
Bruce was replaced by Steve "Evoked Damnator" Priestly, who used to be in the same band as yourself: SHIZO! Tell us a little bit about SHIZO… What kind of style did you play? Have you been in that band from the very beginning? Did you record anything? Did SHIZO fell apart when Steve left for HELLHAMMER?
"Me and Stephen formed Shizo. By that time we were hanging out with Hellhammer and we were attending their rehearsals a lot. Tom and Steve became an inspiration to us and we wanted to form our own band, of course much extremer then Hellhammer. We wanted to blow them away, just like they wanted to outdo Venom. Speaking of Venom, what do you think, where we got the Name from? We tried to play Metal, but we were still learning to master our instruments. I had no idea how to change strings on my Bass and when one broke for the first time I had to go and ask for money to buy a new one because they where so expensive and I was so unprepared. We tried ourselves on an Anvil cover, ‘Metal On Metal’. Oh yes, we also had a guitarist, his name was Garry, he was into Queen and found it really bizarre that Stephen and me where hailing SATAN and listening to Venom and Hellhammer, but there was no one else that we could have asked at the time. No recordings, but we did a crazy photo shoot including a Satanic Baptism and reading from an inverted Latin Bible."
But Steve obviously didn’t last in HELLHAMMER very long as Bruce decided to re-join (or was he asked to re-join maybe?), calling himself "Denial Fiend" now… What lead to this change in the line-up again and what was the reason that he chose a different stage name at the time? For how long had Steve been a part of HELLHAMMER then?
"Please wait for the book. Please?"
From what I’ve heard Tom didn’t really get along with Mike "Grim Decapitator" Owens, so they split-up and then you joined HELLHAMMER as "Slayed Necros"… When was that exactly? Did Steve suggest you to become the new bassplayer or did you already know Tom before?
"Stephen and me both met up with Tom at the same time at a local “Disco” at the evangelical youth center in Wallisellen (in fact a small cellar space underneath the evangelical Church center), where both me and Stephen lived. They also played some Metal records from time to time and that was the reason why we hung out there. Everything you mention happened in 1983, including recording all the demos and the firing of Steve Warrior and Bruce Day, etc. Steve was actually the new bass player before me, respectively after I had fired myself in my function as “manager” under the pseudonym “Mart Jeckyl”. But when Stephen failed to show up for the "Satanic Rites" recording session, it became clear to me and Tom that “Slayed Necros” would be the ultimate Hellhammer bass player."
In retrospect: would you say that you had a big influence of the typical HELLHAMMER style that we all know from the "Satanic Rites" demo, "Apocalyptic Raids" EP and "Death Metal" compilation tracks?
"Musically? Not much. Lyrically as well as visually, absolutely!"
By the way, have you ever received any feedback from VENOM at the time concerning your slogan "VENOM is killing music… HELLHAMMER is killing VENOM"?
"Yes we have! We did meet up with them at a press conference / signing session prior to their Seven Dates Of Hell tour in 1984. This will all be told in detail in the book."
When and how did you get together with "Metal Mike" Blim, who ended up running the band’s Fan Club for a while?
"Hm, I can’t exactly remember right know."
At the time when you were sending around those HELLHAMMER news-flyers a whole bunch of songtitles got spread that never really made it onto a HELLHAMMER release, like ‘Black Widow’, ‘Demon Entrails’, ‘Ride On The Wings Of Sabbath’, ‘Phallical Tantrum’, ‘Beyond The Beyond’ and ‘Defeat Of The Serpent’… Did those songs really exist or were the titles simply made up to keep the interest in the band high? In case they did exist, whatever happened to them? Did you use parts of them for other songs maybe?
“’Phallic Tantrum’ became a song on "Vanity / Nemesis", although it was just a lyrical concept back in the day. Some of those songtitles were just that. Some already had lyrics to them and some were songtitles to existing songs, but the titles got changed in the progress."
Talking of those news-flyers: how many did you spread of them? The last one I own is No.5!
"There were more then 5 flyers. Tom has followed that up for the book and I belief, that we have copies of most of them for release, but I do not have the exact number on my mind right now. Once again, wait for the book."
Apart from Noise Records, did you really get label offers from Music For Nations and Ebony Records as well?
Tell us a bit about the "Apocalyptic Raids" EP and "Death Metal" compilation tracks… Was the material originally supposed to be released together as a full length? What kind of memories do you have on the recording sessions?
"The idea was always to do a compilation and the EP! The recording sessions were kind of chaotic since we wanted to produce the record on our own and we did not really have a clue on how to do it. The book? Yes much more info will be found there."
What was the reason that the CD version ended up getting a different cover artwork?
"I wanted a different cover artwork."
Is the re-release with the original artwork an official release?
"Yes, the re-release is official."
Do you know how many different editions of the vinyl EP are around?
"I don’t really know."
On May 11, 1984 you officially announced the end of HELLHAMMER… What kind of reactions did you get on that?
"Mixed reactions! From sad to enthusiastic. But one should not forget that we did almost at the same time already announce the formation of Celtic Frost."
By the way: was HELLHAMMER a fourpiece shortly before you called the quits? I’m referring to a statement of yours when you announced the split-up, in which you complained about the lack of dedication of two (!) members… and that didn’t include Tom, so…
"Hellhammer was a four piece in the end! We had at the last minute added a second guitarist named Vince Caretti aka Dei Infernal. Although we first wanted to bestow that title on Oliver Amberg who at that time played in an earlier incarnation of Coroner, but Oli did not really go for it. Luckily so, since Oli later joined Tom on "Cold Lake" where he performed not so well (at least to my ears!). By the way Vince did not really do that much good either, since he just failed to show up to rehearsals."
Around the time when you already had left CELTIC FROST and Tom was still continuing on with a different line-up, there was talk that you tried to keep HELLHAMMER going again… Was there any truth to that or was it all rumors?
"I was thinking and talking about that possibility, but never followed it up."
Tom often told in CELTIC FROST interviews that there would never ever be a re-release of the old HELLHAMMER stuff because of the fact that neither the original master tapes nor the negatives for the old pictures do exist any longer… Well, now we 2008 and the "Demon Entrails" release proves the total opposite… Does that mean he was coming up with those statements simply because he was sick and tired to hear all the questions about HELLHAMMER again and again or was the whole material in your personal possession maybe?
"Well, it is a known fact that Tom did not want to have to do anything with Hellhammer for quite some time. He really despised that band. We do not possess the original master tapes to any of the demos. We had to pull the "Demon Entrail" recordings from cassette copies of the demos, these where partially the same that had been used to manufacture two limited edition picture disc versions of "Triumph Of Death" and "Satanic Rites". These where done by Dinosaur, Marco Suremann, a former roadie and Hellhammer hangaround with our consent. We did not have the negatives to any of the photographs, but we managed to assemble quite a few original copies and one of the original photographers, Martin Kyburz, was able to provide us with some negatives. I had a lot of flyers, logo designs drawings and some photographs in my possession. I think it is important to mention, that the entire process of releasing the demos in a proper form for the first time since 1983 was important to me and Tom in order to come to terms with our past. When we had started to work on "Monotheist", when we were struggling to become CELTIC FROST once more we realised that we had to go back to our roots, to the very beginning in order to understand what it was that we wanted to do with CELTIC FROST. These are the beginnings. "Demon Entrails" are the roots of what we have become. I think it was high time that we took care of our legacy ourselves, instead of leaving it to bootleggers all over the world. Although I have to state, that some of them have really helped keeping Hellhammer alive and stinking."
Ok Martin, I guess we have covered the most important parts of the HELLHAMMER history here… Thanks for taking the time to re-live it with us and all the best for your personal and musical future! The last words are yours!
"Read the dam’ book once it gets released! Thank You."