Hellhammer was a Swiss extreme metal band from Nurensdorf, active during 1981–1984. They are regarded as a key influence on black metal, and one of the founders of death metal. In June 1984, Hellhammer became Celtic Frost.
Inspired by the music of Black Sabbath, Venom, Raven, and Motörhead, guitarist/vocalist Thomas Gabriel Fischer (a.k.a. “Tom Warrior”), bassist/vocalist Urs Sprenger (a.k.a. “Steve Warrior”) and drummer Pete Stratton formed Hammerhead (later Hellhammer) in early 1981.
After the exit of Stratton and drummer Jörg Neubart (a.k.a. “Bruce Day”) joining in the ranks on autumn 1982, Hellhammer attempted to find proper rehearsal spaces, which proved difficult due to either exceedingly high rents or unavailable studio hours. In June 1983, the group recorded their first demo tape, Triumph of Death, for a mere $70. Despite being embarrassed by the end results, Hellhammer shipped their demo to a number of heavy metal magazines, such as Great Britain’s Metal Forces; critical response toward them was generally favorable. Although rejected by the labels they sent tapes to, the band eventually caught the attention of newcomer Noise Records.
Steve Warrior had been replaced by former Schizo bassist Martin Eric Ain, a change which marked the beginning of a serious and radical transformation in the band’s music and lyrics. These changes were ultimately responsible for Fischer’s and Ain’s increasing perception of being limited within the confines of the purposely primitive Hellhammer vehicle. On May 31, 1984, Hellhammer disbanded, and on June 1 changed its name to Celtic Frost.
At the dawn of the next decade Noise Records released a new version of Hellhammer’s debut, retitled Apocalyptic Raids 1990 A.D. This re-issue was augmented by two tracks off the Death Metal compilation, which was “something we always wanted to, even back in ’84”, claimed Tom Warrior. This re-release also came with a new cover design done by Martin Ain.
In November 2007, Tom Gabriel Fischer announced that the original master tapes of Hellhammer’s demos (Death Fiend, Triumph of Death, and Satanic Rites) would be released as a 2CD/3LP package, titled ‘Demon Entrails’, in February 2008 with new liner notes on the complete history of Hellhammer, unreleased photos and artwork, and all tracks remastered personally by Tom Gabriel Fischer, Martin Eric Ain and Steve Warrior. The album was released by Prowlin’ Death/Century Media Records.
Additionally, Tom Fischer has released a book titled ‘Only Death Is Real: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost 1981-1985’, which documents the early days of said bands. The book featured a foreword by Darkthrone guitarist Nocturno Culto and an introduction by the author Joel McIver.
Although its former members felt proud of Hellhammer’s legacy by the end of the 1980s, that was not always so. In fact, Tom Warrior feared that his prior commitment to Hellhammer could hinder the future of Celtic Frost. A 1985 Kerrang! review summed up his worst fears: “The truly execrable Hellhammer may now have turned into Celtic Frost but still suck on the big one”.
Other metal publications were also skeptical of Hellhammer’s musical endeavor. Metal Forces, for one, absolutely loathed the group; that started a long-lasting feud between that zine and Warrior, which kept Celtic Frost from playing in England for a couple of years. Rock Power was not fond of Hellhammer either – they considered it “the most terrible, abhorrent, and atrocious thing ‘musicians’ were ever allowed to record”. In fact, they were “receiving miserable reviews everywhere”, Warrior concluded.
Regarding the controversial status of his former band, Thomas said :
“Way back in 1984 and 85, when Martin Eric Ain and I recorded Celtic Frost’s first two albums Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion, Hellhammer lasted on us almost like a curse. Even though Hellhammer was the very reason we had thought over our goals and conceived the Frost, HH’s left-overs kept being mighty rocks in our way. Many voices saw Frost as the same band with just a name-change. The lack of musical quality in HH made it almost impossible for us to get an unbiased reaction for Frost. To make a long story short, it almost killed all our work and dreams.”
A four-track 12″ EP, Apocalyptic Raids (see album cover on the right), was released in March 1984. At the time, it was regarded as one of the heaviest and most extreme records produced. By then, the band had already broken up, but the recording was one of the original black/death metal recordings, and spawned a legion of imitators, playing doom metal, thrash metal, black metal and death metal. Both Fischer and Ain later teamed up again when forming Celtic Frost in summer of 1984.
Countless Hellhammer cover versions by numerous underground bands exist. Hellhammer covers by notable bands include Napalm Death, Sepultura, Samael, Incantation, Slaughter, Behemoth and Gallhammer. Fischer’s post-Celtic Frost band, Apollyon Sun, also re-worked “Messiah”.