Review Summary: Black death is the reason you all shall die.
Brocas Helm is the personification of a “cult band”. A San Francisco oddity that started off playing epic metal in the vein of many USPM acts around at the time. Yet if the terms “strange” and “heavy metal” would get a mention in the same sentence, there’s a more than probable chance it’s in connection with Brocas Helm’s second effort, Black Death. Trying to explain what the album sounds like to unprepared ears is a daunting task. I’m not even sure if the band themselves could come up with an apt description of the sound they crafted, nor do I think they care. After all, if anything typifies the music, it’s the attitude of reckless carelessness of whatever anyone else may think of the final result.
On Black Death all of the elements of classic metal are in their place yet it’s the execution, gleeful over the top in its nature, that makes it near incomparable to anything else on the market back then and now. You have the almost medieval melodic leads, the proto-speed metal riffing, the bluesy Motorhead-like licks and soloing as well as the gritty vocal work…which haphazardly seem to get thrown in a blender underneath layers of psychedelic grain. The vocals are buried underneath an almost unnecessary amount of ghostly echoing effects. Sounds of clashing swords, thunder or battle roars pop up out of nowhere. Bass solos are thrown the listener’s way when they least expect it. Leads and solos carry on into song parts where other bands would stop playing. The whole sounds like it was recorded from the sound of the radio blasting out of someone’s car while the songs blaze past at an almost grindcore-like intensity.
It’s completely over the top, almost to an unnecessary extent. At the same time, it’s through exaggerating their sound that they manage to create the feverish vibe the album benefits from. And while it may seem that the focus here is on evoking a certain vibe above anything else, the actual musicianship is of note as well. Be it the notable bass lines or the remarkably frenzied yet forceful drumming. For an album that comes across as this frantic, the musicianship remains strangely focused.
Memorable moments are littered throughout the record. Think of the earworm folky leads or ever-echoing vocal lines in “Fly High”, the crazy bass soloing in “Prepare for Battle”, the dark ages nuthouse effects in “The Chemist”. In its relatively scarce runtime so many quirky ideas are thrown around at a blistering pace that could throw anybody into an epileptic fit. At times it does feel like the band is going to lose itself amongst the madness, but the sense of structure, be it an impulsive one, remains.
At a furious 28 minutes this nearly feels like a crossover or grindcore record in epic heavy metal clothing. Nonetheless is this scraping the barrel on what this classic gem has to offer. An underrated, brilliant example of enigmatic metal that can measure itself with the greatest the genre had to offer in the 80’s.