1986 was one hell of a year for heavy metal and a year so cock-jammed with metal couldn’t help but toss aside some class underground junk in favor for more obviously commercial and/or revolutionary releases. When some corny speed metal band from Atlanta put out ‘Death & Insanity’ on Metal Blade you’d think it’d have put up big numbers for just being thrash and on such a big label. But hey, hold it, Metal Blade wasn’t always the bigger deal that it is now and this isn’t the only record that was overlooked by many that year: Fates Warning ‘Awaken the Guardian’ and Cirith Ungol’s amazing ‘One Foot in Hell’ kept those bands underground simply, in my opinion, because they didn’t resemble the wave of Metallica and Slayer-alikes. Unlike those other Metal Blade unlikely contenders, Hallow’s Eve had a chance and they did get their one moment of fame with the track “Lethal Tendencies” appearing in a lesser known (but quite good) film River’s Edge as part of the soundtrack. While I would definitely subvert this retro review and say go watch that movie as soon as you can find it, I’d highly recommend listening to ‘Death & Insanity’ a few times on loop first.
Do you ever wonder when you’re lying in your bed
Deep dark thoughts of trances coming
Flying through your head
You know you’re truly stable
But could your thoughts be the truth?
A horde of groping parasites to haunt you
In your youth
From the moment the album starts you’re greeted by Dave Stuart’s fantastic fluid riff style at it’s peak. As you spin the album repeatedly it feels as though it was arranged so this introduction would loop the final song around thematically. Throughout this less than three minute song the lyrics are barked out in such a sinister, disenfranchised tone. Continuing the themes of ‘Tales of Terror’, comes a more personal, timely self-examination and warning of the horrors of being a young man in the 1980’s. While most tracks appear inspired by horror movies lyrically, the clangor of the guitar is both perfectly simple yet hugely violent. Having only one guitarist and a reasonably stark production, the rhythm guitars are desperately hitting their mark in the most savage way. His style gallops and chugs and swerves while the leads create direction and theme nearly as much as the rhythms. It goes well into ‘variations on a theme’ style riffcraft and forms a bold guitar statement within the framework of a speed metal album. One could never accuse ‘Death & Insanity’ as “just another thrash album” and certainly not “generic”. Sure, bands like Nasty Savage had a grasp on this horror-edged speed metal as well but nothing short of proto-death metal and Slayer themselves felt this dirty.
The main argument most folks make for ‘Death & Insanity’ is largely due to the standout track “Lethal Tendencies” and yes, it is practically death metal for its time (not literally, shut up) but the double bass drumming, slow-churn riff, and guttural vocals with apocalyptic lyrics sure seemed that way at the time. The chorus is just brutal and all that, too. My issue with focusing on that single track sort of leads to the rest of the album being overlooked as those songs are arguably even more frantic, heavier and just as dramatic. Tracks like “D.I.E. (Death in Effect)” and “Suicide” really put this album on the same level as Megadeth’s “Peace Sells…” and Metal Church’s amazing “The Dark” in terms of sheer variation, elaborate structure and memorability. Sure, Hallow’s Eve was always a big, ugly and cheesy metal monster with colossal balls… but that is all the more reason why they should never have been so overlooked in their prime, and good reason to give this album some credit for being merely great in a time where the biggest names in metal were being transcendent. Despite how ‘cheesy’ and purely metal this release is, it is transfixing and personal for me as a record I can put on repeat for hours and fall into the guitar tone and harrowing vocals. At this point ‘Death & Insanity’ is a part of the music that plays in my head before I go to sleep at night and I’d encourage others to experience just how cool the lesser known gems of the 80’s can be no matter what the current year it is.