Our subject today is The Courier, Emanzipation Production‘s forthcoming deluxe vinyl reissue of demo tapes first released by the Danish band Samhain in the mid-’80s, now remastered by Tue Madsen. The advertising for this special album-length release (and the extensive liner notes accompanying it) refer to is as “a piece of metal history“. It further includes these quotes:
“Samhain helped us kickstart our career because they believed in metal! Forever thankful and I‘m happy to see their music being re-released. Hail Samhain!” Mille Petrozza, Kreator
“This is the kind of riffs bands like Obituary have made a career out of touring with for 30 years. Samhain played those riffs way earlier. And Obituary fucking rules!” Tue Madsen, producer, Antfarm Studio
“Way better musicianship and production than on the first Hellhammer demos. You guys were already way ahead of them. This shit is heavy as shit. In a primitive, good way!” Monte Conner, metal industry legend
All of this is entirely appropriate, but let’s be real: There are vast numbers of metal fans out there, old as well as young, who will greet this kind of prose with a shrug. There’s a musty smell to history, and a question about why people who aren’t history buffs, collectors, or folks trying to re-live a vital time in their own past, should pay attention to music created by teenagers 40 years ago, given that we’re already drowning on a daily basis in non-stop typhoons of music that’s brand new.
For people like that, we say: Forget about everything you’ve just read above. Pretend that Samhain is a brand new band who is just now releasing The Courier for the first time, and listen to what they’ve done. It will make you forget about history right damned fast.
The reason we say that is because The Courier is just as capable of popping eyes open today as the demos must have been 40 years ago. Today it might be called something like “blackened death/thrash”. Back in the day, it might have simply been called “mind-blowing”.
The album opener “Plague of Messiah” has that eye-popping effect almost immediately. There’s a scary half-minute of tolling bells, macabre pronouncements, and eerie guitar reverberations, and then the gates of hell come off their hinges. The drums maniacally rumble; the bass hurtles just as frantically; the guitars writhe in madness; and a voice snarls and howls like a famished vampire or wolf. But Samhain switch things up, repeatedly shifting the tempo and the riffing, lurching and stomping as well as convulsing, injecting shrill warbling tones and shrieking solos as well as double-kick bursts and blaring chords of imperious infernal might.
That song really is a startling display of electrifying evil, and although the sound isn’t polished and prettied-up, it does sound a lot better than you might expect from something first recorded for a mid-’80s demo tape (certainly, Tue Madsen deserves a tip of the hat for this). It sounds both organic and supernatural, and finds a sweet spot between clarity and filthiness, fitting for the performances, which are rough enough and loose enough to feel authentically spirited, but tight enough not to sound like chaos.
The rest of The Courier perpetuates the opener’s atmosphere of hellishness. The riffs get their hooks in deep, whether they’re whining in demented thrashing frenzies, ruthlessly slashing like blood-drenched blades, moaning in tortured agony, or locking into big heavy metal headbangers (you’ll find very good examples of the latter in the midst of “Fateful Day“, “Rebirth“, and “Ground Zero“, among other). The shrieking solos strip off the distortion and repeatedly sear the senses with their crazed convulsions (that song “Rebirth” also includes one of the album’s most jaw-dropping, mind-mutilating solos).
The gritty and braying vocals also continue sounding authentically hell-born, and never fall prey to monotony. The bass-work gets plenty of chances to shine, even though surrounded by such devilishly excellent guitars. And while the drumming isn’t fancy, it sounds very natural and does more than just keep time, fortifying the frequent tempo variations and throwing in skull-smacking fills and obliterating munitions that add to the music’s electrifying impact.
We’ll call out one more song specifically, just as an example of the dynamism of these two demos as a whole. That song, “Evil Courier“, begins with a piercing, siren-like guitar harmony and then slowly staggers forward like a horrid rotting golem while the drummer kicks up one riot after another. But the song also repeatedly explodes in venomous guitar paroxysms backed by turbocharged percussive battering and wild howls. And in those slower moments, the horror-show vocals almost become singing.
“Evil Courier” isn’t the only song that slows into episodes of primitive ghoulishness and ghastliness, nor the only song when the ravenous violence of the music boils over. In fact, the dynamism of the songwriting displayed there is a constant hallmark of the album, and one reason why it’s so easy to stay with it from start to finish.
So yeah, forget about history and just take this as it comes, right now — because it’s fantastic. And of course you don’t have to take our word for it, because we’ve got the full stream today:
A BIT MORE HISTORY:
We don’t really want to completely forget about history, despite what we wrote way up above. It really is worth knowing that despite never achieving a record deal in their prime, Samhain gained a devoted following, and we’re told that they became a household name in the underground thrash and death metal scene, playing with acts such as Kreator, Pestilence, Imperator, Illdisposed, Exumer, Mezzrow and Invocator.
In about 1986 the band changed their name to DesExult and released more demos from 1986 through 1988, and then split up. According to Metal-Archives, “band members Henk Leviathan and Ebsen Slot Sorensen [both of them guitarists] published a popular zine called Blackthorn during the mid-’80s and inspired the name Darkthrone.” (The other members of Samhain were Martin Mundrup (vocals, bass) and Max Thorup Due (drums).
Who knows what Samhain might have accomplished if they’d stayed together for 40 more years? It’s an intriguing thought, but hell, if The Courier must be their only legacy, it’s a damned fine one.
MORE ABOUT THE VINYL REISSUE:
The album features all songs from the band’s first two demo tapes, recorded in 1985 and 1986. As noted earlier, the demos were remastered for this release by Tue Madsen at Antfarm Studio (Rob Halford, Sick Of It All, The Haunted, Vio-Lence, etc.).
It will be released on August 4th (tomorrow!) by Emanzipation Productions on LP (black, 180-gram vinyl, limited to 500, hand-numbered), including a 12-page booklet with extensive liner notes and rare photos from the band’s early days. It will also be available digitally. And you can place your orders now: