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Tom Gabriel Fischer and Martin Eric Ain had high hopes for Hellhammer's first proper record, Apocalyptic Raids. Although a few positive reviews arrived, they were still skewered, especially in this choice barb in Kerrang!: "I would like to correct a statement I made earlier concerning the worst record I've heard in my life. This, undoubtedly, is it".

The list of indignities is seemingly endless in Only Death Is Real: An Illustrated History of Hellhammer and Early Celtic Frost, 1981-1985. The book, written by Fischer with Ain and released by Bazillion Points, is a must-have for anyone interested in the roots of extreme metal.

Fischer has been talking about this book for three years. It's worth the wait. Only Death Is Real is a combination of a museum exhibit on extreme metal and a redemptive story about the power of music to change lives. Perhaps more importantly for fans, it's a complete archive of the earliest days of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost and, by extension, European black metal.

Publisher Ian Christe (also author of Sound of the Beast) and Fischer have gone all out to make this authoritative, and the hard work is evident. The number of photos documenting Hellhammer and Celtic Frost is staggering. The book is also packed with reproductions of flyers, press releases, inserts of demo cassettes, and other artifacts. Metalheads were poorly served for years by publishers who occasionally released a book by a sociologist or academic trying to analyze metal fans like chimps. Only Death Is Real was created by people who respect fans and know what they want.

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The story, however, is not an easy one. Fischer has hinted in the past at his troubled upbringing, and in Only Death is Real details what happened during his childhood. His mother was a compulsive cat hoarder who left him abandoned for days. Urine crystallized on books, and the house was filthy. Fischer was taunted mercilessly because he smelled bad and was poorly dressed. He retreated into an imaginary world to cope.

When heavy metal came in the form of Venom's In League With Satan single, it was a lifeline, something that allowed him to connect with the outside world and validate his internal struggles. Ain's upbringing was more stable, but he still suffered from horrible childhood acne and rebelled against his religious parents. Hellhammer and Celtic Frost were created from this chaos and personal pain.

It's hard to imagine that someone had the foresight to chronicle a band that never played live so extensively and was pilloried by nearly every reviewer. But it seems like Hellhammer were accorded the attention of KISS on tour. Literally every demo, concert outing, or backyard jaunt was photographed. These photos, many by Hellhammer and Celtic Frost photographer Martin Kyburz, will seem eerily familiar to any metalhead: young outcasts thumbing their nose at the world and also trying to find their place in it.

The photos include a young Tom Fischer working as an apprentice at a machine shop; Fischer riding a skateboard and an acne-scarred Ain still wearing glasses and a leather jacket before developing a look that borrowed as much from Rozz Williams of Christian Death as it did the metal scene. We also see pictures of Ain's first girlfriend and the barren countryside where Fischer and Ain grew up. The coffee table book is beautiful to hold and flip through, much like Peter's Beste's True Norwegian Black Metal (reviewed here).

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The only drawback to Only Death Is Real is the prose. Visitors to Fischer's blog Delineations II are familiar with his flowery and sometimes vague writing style. That's the case here. Events like rainstorms are treated with dramatic, Victorian language: "It only seems fitting that I should write these very lines as a brooding storm's heavy, low clouds slowly make their way across the wooded hills in the distance and the deeply dark waters of Lake Zurich below, seemingly caressing the earth and inescapably enveloping anything and everything in their path." Words are overused and often redundant; there's no need to say things are "unique" and "revolutionary". That's evident in the story being told and the influence these poorly-produced demos had on metal.

In the end it doesn't detract , especially since Fischer is so forthcoming and honest in telling his story. And most fans already know that Tom's riffs are untouchable, but his writing occasionally unwieldy.

Strangely enough, a book titled Only Death Is Real is about the power of believing in your dreams. Even Hollywood wouldn't buy this story. The boy who slaved in a mechanic's outfit and was even rejected by a community of outsiders now headlines metal festivals.

— Justin M. Norton

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Bazillion Points (details, photos, purchase)

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