Hammer Smashed Faith: how underground sharing has changed (and yet remains the same)

Hammer Smashed Faith is a heavy metal compilation showcasing new, unknown, unsigned and unrefined artists. When released mid last year 2015 I promised the person who put it together that I’d write a review. After making said promise, I penned a few words and promptly sat on it until now. So after more than six months I’ve sheepishly come up with something. Sorry Richard.
A free release (more on this later), Hammer Smashed Faith made me think of how much this whole discovering-and-getting-into-new-music thing has changed since I were a lad. For reference, when I were a lad in my case refers to the ’90s onwards, when vinyl remained very uncool, cassette tapes were common, and CDs were always overpriced.

As a bonus for something to do with extreme metal, the font is in fact quite legible.

Blackened Death Records presents Hammer Smashed Faith

With a name like Hammer Smashed Faith (the title is a play on the famous Cannibal Corpse release in case you didn’t know), and with the artwork depicting Satan presiding over a bunch of huddled freaks from Francisco Goya’s famous Witches’ Sabbath painting, you can imagine what the tone on this compilation is. Most artists are unknown, the tracks are rooted in the extreme side of heavy metal, and the sound and production quality is generally demo-grade.
If there’s one thing lacking on this compilation, it’s a refined studio polish. Talent is not absent on many of the tracks here, so much so that I found myself thinking on several tracks how awesome it would sound if only some label put money behind it for a studio, production, sound, etc.
The person behind the Hammer Smashed Faith compilation is one Richards ‘Pope’ Weeks. A busy chap based in the UK, he’s publicly active in at least eight bands: Carnivorous Forest, The Meads Of Asphodel, Redacted, Sea Wolves Of The Atlantic, Ebonillumini, World Controller, The Higher Craft, and Suicide Wraith. He also hosts The Eucharist Assembly podcast, and at the time of writing it wasn’t all long ago that he’d gotten married too (so, that was a good six months ago when I should have published this).
I got to ‘know’ Richard through heavy metal via a mutual friend. Thanks to the internet, I've made this acquaintance, despite the fact that I've never met or spoken to him in person. It came about after I played some Tengger Cavalry (the greatest Mongolian throat singing folk metal band of all time) to a mate who in turn recommended it to Richard who, despite being in a different hemisphere, loved it and played it on his podcast.
Podcasting — the term was ‘invented’ by Apple and should really be called webcasting — is today one of a myriad of bog standard methods of getting to know new music. If you’re an independent artist steeped in extreme heavy metal, why wouldn’t the internet be your primary means of distribution (that is, unless you’re one of those kvlt wankers who makes a one-off run of 37 lo-fi black metal demo cassettes and then complains bitterly when Metal Archives brings unwanted attention to your band after someone creates a page for your one release — see the pic below from Metal Archives for proof that this is in fact an actual thing).
But would you believe, it wasn’t always that way.

Don’t want your heavy metal band to be mentioned on the internet? Here’s a tip. Don’t start a band!

While I might be showing my age, it’s disconcerting for a 30-something like me to come to terms with the fact that the vast majority of under-16s haven’t known any other way of ‘getting’ their music other than through digital.
10 years ago, physical media was still a dominant medium, albeit a sharply declining one. Sure, the writing was definitely drying on the wall, but Spotify and Bandcamp were yet to be founded, the iPhone hadn’t been invented, and YouTube was in its infancy.
The easiest and most appealing option for most people to find and freely listen to new music — if they weren’t willing or were unable to afford a CD — usually involved frequenting suspect illegal file downloading portals, or else, getting a ripped CD-R copy, traditionally accompanied by hastily written, illegible black script in thick permanent marker.
And hasn’t a great deal changed since physical media ceased to be the dominant medium?

Good versus evil in the nascent digital music age

What I find interesting about a compilation like Hammer Smashed Faith is that it’s indicative of just how far The Way Of Doing Things has progressed, yet staunchly does not sway from the same fine traditions that make heavy metal so great.
There’s a noble side to all this freely available digital music distribution, which would you believe, predates the digital age. That tradition is the same ideal that drove people to such great lengths to tape trade back in the ’80s, when heavy metal counter culture was an underground phenomenon that routinely battled for any exposure on popular media.
Heavy metal tape trading very much helped shape death metal and black metal in the ’80s and early ’90s. Look it up if you’re unfamiliar with it because the intercontinental lengths fans would go to just to discover and share new music was simply awesome.
The technology of today means the method and ease of sharing has changed drastically, but the spirit arguably remains. Despite the cynicism that comes with age, I’d like to believe that heavy metal fans today have just as much fire today as they did almost 50 years ago when it all started with Black Sabbath. What drove the passion of tape trading lives on today, with the fundamental difference being that there are now far fewer serious entry barriers.
You’ll find this on Hammer Smashed Faith. Originally envisaged as a freely available release for most of its pre-release life, the response apparently turned out to be so good that it was eventually offered as a physical item too. While the ambitious plan to put out a digipak was shelved on practical grounds, this formerly free-to-download compilation was nonetheless released in a slip case with a four-page colour booklet. Not that such a compilation could possibly hope to make vast sums of money, as the asking price to press, package and release an otherwise free compilation like this would barely cover the costs.
Nonetheless, while I believe everything turned out well in the end, my point is — if seen in purely financial terms — that releasing a free compilation and then carrying the financial risk of pressing a premium physical version is not what usually makes for a strong business case. Indeed, why would one pay anything when it is legitimately available for free? Financial gain was low on the list of motivations for promoting and distributing this because, as I said before, the love of music is at the heart of what makes heavy metal so great.
In this digital age, the discovery of new and amazing music is no longer confined to a community radio announcer’s personal inclination or on some dude from an unpronounceable Latin American city getting back to you after you wrote a letter to an illegible address from the back page of an obscure zine. Simply put, the mechanism has been revolutionised but the spirit and intent of heavy metal remains unchanged.
And yet, just as in the good ol’ days, so too have some of the less savoury aspects also remained unchanged.

There’s always someone, isn't there?

When you’re onto a good thing, there’s inevitably someone spoiling it for the rest of us, right? Someone who feels they can take advantage of it at everyone’s expense?
In the days of tape trading, the thing that kept people honest was an honour system. Those who did not reciprocate a shipment of cassettes would (hopefully) get a bad reputation, which would ideally get them shut out of the tape trading circuit. The honour system relied on transparency and word of mouth or pen at a time where messages travelled no faster than the postal system. Apparently it worked reasonably well, but the nature of the system still meant that new or ignorant traders constantly risked getting snared.
The advent of the digital music age has entirely removed that risk. What has not changed, however, is same mindset that drove people to be arses even 30 years ago. While the villain in the piece has traditionally been the maligned greedy record label (see Motörhead making the point in 1976 on the track Fools — ironically, on a release that was then cynically withheld by the record label for three years), there’s no shortage of lesser charlatans in the rock music game.
It’s a less than ideologically-pure point and it’s something Richards Weeks came across almost weekly ever since he started putting out music like Hammer Smashed Faith on his label, Blackened Death Records.
“Since I started the label I receive at least one email a week asking if I want to be on a free compilation album. All I have to do is pay 70 euros and I’m on it!” he says.
“A lot of bands — and good ones — will be on your comp for free,” he says — in reference to what is at best spam, at worst a scam — “asking obscure musicians for 70 euros to be on Polski Zatanik Virginzlaughter Comp Volume 425.”
And yet it continues to happen. Even with with obscure heavy metal bands who release free compilations that were never intended to profit in the first place.
As I said, many of us are not in it for the money.

So there you have it

The spirit of metal is as alive as it ever was since a young Ozzy Osbourne was heard to declare “what is this that stands before me?” on Friday 13th 1970 on Black Sabbath’s debut album. His words gave birth to heavy metal as we know it, and for all its glory and fire, with it also came the same marginal cynicism that has afflicted, from the very beginning, this thing we call the music industry.
In the case of Hammer Smashed Faith, a feeble spam attempt is hardly the stuff of the most infamous record label rip-offs of all time. Nonetheless, the scummy practice illustrates how readily any wonderful new medium is misused. Remember what I said about removing entry barriers?
It’s unfortunate and it’s simply not confined to a specific era, for the same rip-off mentality that would try to do a number on you 25 years ago was called out as a bad tape trader.
Fortunately, Polski Zatanik Virginzlaughter Comp Volume 425 is the exception to the rule. There's a great heavy metal spirit out there and, for what it is, Hammer Smashed Faith is a promising compilation that showcases extreme heavy metal artists who are hopefully in the early take-off stage of their glorious trajectory.

To that end, I sincerely mean the following: I imagine Hammer Smashed Faith would have gone far, had it been released on cassette tape 25 years ago through the one true tape trading underground, copied from one cassette generation to another via scratchy, muffled, dubbed tape and accompanied by equally scratchy hand-drawn and photocopied artwork and liner notes.

As stated, I should have published this eight or so months ago. In fact, Hammer Smashed Faith II has since been released. Presumably I’ll get around to writing about it some time in 2022.

 ·         Download: right here

·         Favourite Hammer Smashed Faith tracks:
Ø  Wytchfilth: No Bliss
Ø  A perfect example of a demo track that shows tremendous promise. Dark, twisted black metal with a nasty industrial edge.

Ø  Redacted: Black Shuck
Ø  Way less on the berserk extreme side of the spectrum, but still another track with promise. Melodic, fast and somewhat furious metal with some occasional screetchy vocals.

Ø  Carnivorous Forest: Wendigo Psychosis
Ø  Don’t listen to this track. It will worm right into your brain.

Ø  Ebola Gush: It Itches
Ø  Filthy grind, silly and heavy.

Ø  Squirm: The Evil Dead
Ø  Short, sharp and eminently disgusting death metal with obvious horror movie samples. You get no points for guessing which horror movie by the way.

And did I mention it’s a free heavy metal compilation?

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