The enigmatic M.S.W releases his fourth full-length, non-split project with Hell once again titled Hell. On this album Hell captures a barren desolation with their fusions of sounds in a way quite unlike other doom metal artists. The keys to their success here are numerous as the album spills forth a multitude of elements through its course which unify to create a true feeling of hell, and it is a complex hell, not just the biblical landscape but a pained absence within.
The first of the many elements that contribute is the way Hell draws from the different past traditions of metal, and puts them in conversation, to create a harrowing and demonic sound like few prior have achieved. Tracks like Helmzmen and SubOdin kick off with riffs that are reminiscent of traditional doom. There are moments where riffs feel even Sabbath-esque. However, in Helmzmen for example, this is immediately and violently contrasted with the vocals very much alien to these styles. They are abrasive, tortured and atonal and alongside the incessant trudge of the doom tempo, they instil terror into each slow step. I think this antithesis is expressed most creatively in Wandering Soul, as the doom instrumental section is of a slightly faster pace, akin to much of the doom that existed alongside and amongst the same movement as the seventies and early eighties heavy metal giants. This was a brand of doom that had yet to be taken to the incredibly sluggish speed of funeral doom, and Hell seem interested in returning to and exploring this sound. As Hell crash this sound together with not the horror of his voice this time, but instead eerie tape recordings, we reach an antithesis which is both fascinating and brilliantly executed. In Machitikos, the tempo hits its peak on the project as midway through the track we get a riff and drum rhythm which sounds straight from a Slayer project, but with the tuning and resulting atmosphere being much further down in the depths. Accompanying this comes a vocal that tears through the mix with a rasp and strain akin to the Norwegian black metallers. Again, the way these genres meet on this album allows the listeners to explore the crevices of the underworld yet to be portrayed by their predecessors.
Indeed, the vocals are a paramount aspect of this album and deserve more attention. The first burst of vocals we get in Helmzmen is a guttural, warped growl. Following this comes layers of chaotic, distorted, atonal wails that are a true struggle to decipher. This does not detract from them though, as the sonic properties alone create an atmosphere which is absolutely essential to the powerful effect this album has. There is a definite apex point in SubOdin where his screams hit a point that is so piercingly high it may even make those listening loudly wince at the sound. Again though, this is not an insult, as it is vital to the bite of the antipathy the sound exists to portray. There are other vocal elements that are also incorporated, most bizarrely the radio-esque voice samples spread across the project. In fact, before even the first scream of the first track we get what sounds like a muffled radio transmission of someone yelling ‘mayday’, which is an even more unsettling mood setter, feeling oddly displaced amongst the rest the album offers. Other vocal samples include distorted, recorded clips in Wandering Soul, Inscriptus and early on in Seelenos as Hell step truly into the avant-garde, dabbling in field recordings to further the ominousness of their overall piece. Finally, in the final track and only in the final track, operatic singing is implemented as we reach the album’s resolution.
This leads me to the final element which I feel is incredibly important to this album’s triumph: the structure. Much of the songs do not follow conventional song structure in any means, lacking noticeable refrains and predictable progressions. As described earlier, they vary in tempo often and without clear pattern in each song individually. However, there is a much clearer structural idea when the album is digested as a whole. We begin with the first three tracks, all of which are some of the most brutal and menacing, after this we are given Wandering Soul. This song has a very clear sense of progression as it incorporates a climactic build. On top of this, the lack of vocals and focus on the morphing instrumentation leads it to being an atmospheric break from the beginning chaos. The next track, Inscriptus, is our final return to pure, straight-forward terror before the final two tracks. The penultimate song, Victus, is a twelve-minute epic and around the four-minute mark we get, for the first time, a full break from Hell’s metal sound. First, a sea of drone, and following this, a soft riff which is then accompanied by the album’s first orchestral section. This movement is tender and sombre unlike any other moment prior. The song then devolves into its extremities once again as a sort of unforgiving climax before we are taken to the final song, Seelenos. Seelenos is truly unlike any other track. Again, we get the softer side of darkness, as this emotion-filled riff sits on a bed of bass-y sound, and eventually comes the operatic vocals. As such, the album’s conclusion is remorseful, tying up the idea that this is more than just a caricature of some fiery inferno from scripture, but also a deeper, personal hell, one where perhaps an answer can be found.
The only negative I could say of this album is that I would have liked to see perhaps a little more variation of sound in the earlier half of the album. The first three tracks somewhat blend save from the Slayer-esque moment in Machitikos, and whilst it is still competent and effective, it did not excite me musically like the latter half managed to. Nevertheless, this album is strong, consistent, and most importantly, uses its resources to create an atmosphere of dereliction and suffering that only Hell could create.
Highlights: Wandering Soul, Victus, Seelenos
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