There’s an interesting history behind Hell. As a part of the original NWoBHM, they were close to releasing an album alongside contemporaries like Saxon and Iron Maiden, but bad luck and personal tragedy brought them low and derailed their best laid plans. Though they never made it past the demo stage, they were influential in the scene and championed by folks like producer and former Sabbat guitarist Andy Sneap. So taken with their old demos was he, that he encouraged the members to reform and give it another go with him on guitar, which resulted in 2011s Human Remains opus.
That platter featured some ancient tunes loaded with NWoBHM flair and a noticeable Mercyful Fate influence, and while the music was highly enjoyable, I struggled mightily with the delivery of front man Dave Bower, which was overdone, uber-theatrical and at times, very cheeseball parmesan. He undermined the material and made it difficult to fully embrace the band, as talented as they were. Now they return with their sophomore outing, Curse and Chapter and though they remain true to their core sound, they’ve made a few changes. The music still has the old time charm, but it feels less retro this time and reminds me more of King Diamond‘s solo work mixed with early Savatage. Mr. Bower still overdoes it, but less than before and he’s much more focused and restrained, which greatly helps the flow of the songs. While a bit uneven, it’s mostly classy and engaging and the band’s obvious talent isn’t undermined this time.
I love the vintage swing of opener “Age of Nefarious” and the guitar harmonies crackle and pop. Bower keeps things relatively leashed, but the chorus mimics the “Age of Aquarius” from the musical Hair, and that’s far too much Broadway in my metal. Apart from the very silly chorus, it’s a rousing tune with top-notch guitar play. “The Disposer Supreme” sports a very big King Diamond influence and some wicked riffs, but Bower battles a terminal case of Martin Walkyier Syndrome (i.e. the compulsive urge to cram so many words into a song that the music nearly suffocates). Things improve greatly on “Darkhangel” which is overflowing with tasty fret-board gymnastics and surprisingly restrained vocal harmonies by Mr. Bower. It runs too long, but shows the band dialing in on their strengths.
They also succeed on more simplistic, straight-ahead, galloping numbers like “Harbringer of Death,” “End Ov Days” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Other nice moments include the very Blind Guardian-esque hook-fest of “Land of the Living Dead” and the slick, vintage King Diamond rumble and roar of “A Vespertine Legacy.”
Although they still struggle with some bloat in the song writing department and some tracks could easily be pared down, the only one that face plants is “Deliver Us From Evil,” which features a weird, jazzy swing, cowbells and Bower running a metal spelling bee during the chorus (“Deliver us from E…V…I…L”). It just doesn’t gel and feels overly trite, silly and too much like a bad musical written by Powerwolf.
As with Human Remains, Kev Bowers and Andy Sneap let it all hang out with their playing and their riffs and harmonies buoy every song. Their solo work is extremely impressive and over the course of the album, they paint quite a tapestry of foot-on-amp guitar heroics. Their playing saved the last album and it’s as good or better here. While many of the riffs have a certain old school feel, this never sounds like a dusty relic from the 80s and every song has a hook or two that keep you listening and grooving along. Top-notch stuff!
Dave Bower seems to have settled down into a comfort zone somewhere between Jon Oliva and Hansi Kursch and he wisely distances himself from the compulsive Warrel Dane chirps, squeals and caterwauls this time (though they aren’t gone completely yet). He also seems less intent on stealing all the attention, over-emoting and running his lines all over the songs. He may never become a vocalist I look forward to hearing, but he’s talented and learning how to fit in with the music better.
Hell is a band with major potential and you can definitely hear the progress toward something bigger and better. They don’t quite show what they’re capable of on Curse and Chapter, but they’re heading in the right direction. I still think they’ll uncork a monster at some point and I’ll keep watching for it. In the meantime, this is a fun, accessible listen with some moments of true inspiration shining through. Keep on questing!