Friends of Hell – Friends of Hell Review

80s style doom metal is as rare these days as an honest person in politics. Bands that did it so well back in the day are all but extinct and even promising younger acts like Pallbearer and Khemmis who teased the rebirth of the style sagged under the weight of it all and drifted off to greener pastures. To this dark tableau come Friends of Hell, the classic doom project spearheaded by members of Reverend Bizarre and Electric Wizard. Sporting an 80s-centric style, they sound like a feisty blend of Pentagram, Saint Vitus and Cathedral, but with the classical doom sheen muddied up with the grit and foot fungus of Venom and a sizeable helping of early Mercyful Fate sauce slathered over the top. On dusty parchment that looks like a can’t miss strategy for folks over 45. I’m just over that age, so what the hell do I think?

As a lifelong advocate of the style heard on the early Pentagram and Saint Vitus platters, my heart was easily won by opener “Out With the Wolves.” It’s the exact kind of doom song I wish was more common these days. A simple, heavy riff bulldozes the road as Albert Witchfinder (Opium Warlords, ex-Reverend Bizarre) warbles and wails like a manic mix of Saint Vitus’ Scott Reagers and King Diamond himself. It works like an evil charm, though his spooky Monster Chiller Horror Theater voice can be a bit too much for muchness. You get more of this slightly corny old-school take on doom with cuts like “Shadow of the Impaler” and the especially goofy “Into My Coffin,” which is like something Bobby Liebling would dream up after a monstrous bender.

It’s when the band spikes the doom punch with extra Cathedral juice that the best results are uncovered. The title track and “Evil They Call Us” ride huge heavy leads into battle. The music is bare bones but the riff magic is strong and Mr. Witchfinder finds all them tricksy witchy types. The latter cut in particular reeks of Gaz Jennings’ trademark riffcraft, but Witchfinder’s vocals skew closer to a drunken King Diamond than Lee Dorian as they slap the weight down on you like leaden flapjacks. The proximity of “Gateless Gate” to the demo days of Mercyful Fate is uncanny, injecting a massive dose of NWoBHM energy to the doomy core. The Kingly vocals follow over to the majestic might of “Orion’s Beast,” making for a powerful piece of metal that feels heavy and epic. Not everything wins the Coven Mitt of Triumph though. The sheer silliness of “Into My Coffin” earns a few demerits for House Friends, and closer “Wallachia” is a bit tepid and a tad overlong. At a trim 40 minutes with most cuts n the 4-minute range, this is single serving size doom done well and the production accentuates the heft of the riffs nicely, giving it plenty of weight and mass.

Guitarist Jondix (Mercury Gates, Satan’s Wrath) does solid Gaz Jennings and Dave Chandler impressions over the album’s run, laying down massive doom grooves with enough energy and forward momentum to drive the songs in good directions. There are some moments that really took me back to the salad days of Pentagram, Witchfinder General and Saint Vitus, and that’s always a good day in the life of Steel. Adding to the throwback fun is the sheer amount of ground covered by Albert Witchfinder. He ranges from doom through NWoBHM and into epic trad and it’s mostly well done. Does he overdo it at times? Fuck yes he does, and his horror host Crypt Keeper schtick is going to me a love/ hate make/break issue for many, but he brings the sugar-cured ham to the ham-fisted doom party and no one else did, so good on him. Tasos Danazoglou (Satan’s Wrath, ex-Electric Wizard) does a fine job on drums and the whole band is tight and know what hell they’re doing within a very specific genre modality.

Friends of Hell is a fun, nostalgic throwback to a sound that’s all but ancient history and as such, it’s bound to tingle the nerve clusters of crusty old bastards like me. If the writing was just a bit tighter this could edge upward half a point, but as is there are good and very good moments for doom fans to discover. I hope this isn’t just a one-off and we get further tokens of hellish Friendship down the road. I’m always looking for new infernal acquaintances, so won’t you be, won’t you be my Hell neighbor?

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rise Above
Websites: Too cult for the webz
Releases Worldwide: March 18th, 2022

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