Friday, June 10, 2011

Hell - Human Remains (2011)

Hell has officially been unleashed upon the Earth. Almost three decades after the band were formed in 1982, they are set to reveal their debut album, 'Human Remains." Yes, their debut. Often overlooked in the 80's British metal scene, the band fell by the wayside after the suicide of their singer/guitarist Dave Halliday. But with a few new additions, including acclaimed producer (and obsessed Hell fan) Andy Sneap on guitar, they are back. Theatrical, blasphemous, and foaming at the mouth, Hell is here.

The symphonic "Overture" kicks things off, with timpani and strings leading the way. The all out shred launches "On Earth As It Is In Hell," with a thundering bass line winding in and out. Double bass pedals push the tempo, with brilliant drum fills. Vocals are high pitched, but coarse, a wonderful dichotomy of styles. Throw in a few growls for flavor, and combine with dark chanting, and you have a fist pumping success. The guitars have all of the stomp of Judas Priest, changing from chugging to scales.

"Plague And Fyre" begins with a low tone, horses whinnying and snorting. A baby cries, a bell rings, and Hell is unleashed. Melodic, yet crushing, the band assault you from all angles. The guitar work is simply dirty firing off riff after riff of pure evil. The drums are fast paced and booming. But the highlight in the bass work, climbing up and down the scales with surgical precision. Story telling is surprisingly strong, despite a vocal style that may leave you wondering, at times, if this band is serious. Harmonized chants ring out, and you are informed that London is, in fact, burning to the ground.

The tempo slows for "The Oppressors," but the intensity does not. Guitars fly through note after note, punctuated by snare hit and cymbal crash. "Blasphemy And The Master" starts slow and evil, before ramping things up to a devilish crawl. The low growls offset the high octave wailing, forming a brilliant one-two punch. Haunting keys find their place, laying the groundwork for chants of epic beauty. A solo reveals itself, and takes the track to faster places before concluding. "Let Battle Commence" is the shredfest you have been waiting for, with guitars and bass engaged in a war of power. But rather than fade back and let the fight occur, vocals and drums intensify the scene. Heavy, demonic and battering, this song is not for the faint of heart.

As close to a ballad as you will come, "The Devil's Deadly Weapon" is a head bobbing masterpiece. Bass notes keep the beat moving, guitar chords descend to low end scale mastery, and the vocals keep your ears tingling. "The Quest" and "MacBeth" follow, showcasing the songwriting ability that may get lost in the over the top pageantry of it all. This isn't a meaningless piece of demonic fluff. News reports of priests abusing young boys build, and the band unleash blazing solo after blazing solo in "Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us." The lyrics here are particularly poignant, and the delivery of said lyrics makes them even more powerful. The band unite with each note, creating an aural assault that you may not be prepared for.

Deep chugging and darkening bass guitar welcomes you to the grand finale, "No Martyr's Cage." All of the elements that make this album great are present here. And I mean all of them. The guitars take you on a wicked, winding journey. The bass aggravates that whiplash you had when you first heard Slayer. The drums are constant and deliberate, filling every space with a snare, cymbal, kick or tom. But again, the vocals are the icing on the cake. Eerie, odd and torturous at times, this isn't something you hear every day. This is the sound of insanity.

There is a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach when I say that this album is "refreshing." It seems almost wrong to call something like this a "breath of fresh air," especially given the time period when these songs were written. But alas, it is all of those things, and so much more. A debut album, 25 years in the making, "Human Remains" is one of the very few that was truly worth the wait.


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