Let it never be said I’m not game for unconventional genre hybrids. Gothic speed metal? Hand me the scalpel. Power death metal? Probably just melodic death metal in disguise, but I’ll don my bib all the same. Thrash doom metal? Now we’re talking! Green Death from Des Moines, Iowa, claim they managed to inject doom, melodic death, and other scraps of genres into thrash metal. The biting speed and fury of thrash seem antithetical to the heavy-handed lethargy of doom, rousing the suspicion that the genre description is full of crap, or as they say on that side of the pond, fake news. On the other hand, bands like Nevermore have experimented with doomy odds and ends in combination with thrash before, to great success. So is this particular Frankensteinian creation alive or just a pile of rotting body parts?
Largely, their approach works surprisingly well. The formula consists of a melodic blend of heavy and thrash metal, with a wide scale of tempos across the album, with doom influences rearing their head naturally as the pacing drops lower. The amount of doom differs greatly from track to track: “She Couldn’t Live” staunchly clings to its somber robes, while opener proper “Bullet of Silver” ignores the concept entirely. But from the dreary to the dizzying: if you like your metal obtuse, distorted and repugnant, you might want to look away. This one is entirely for melody-worship, focusing on smooth guitar licks, punchy riffs, and Sol Bales’ moody croon and soaring bellows, only occasionally supplemented with shouts and growls. His upper baritone range is well suited to the melodious compositions, from the expressive choir-backed chorus of “Curse the Heavens” to the Machine Head pummel of “I Am Eternal.”
The stylistic gumbo is in the band’s favor. By mixing the dosages of aggression and speed, Hallowmass is chock full of variety. The album reads like an occult action film: ominous riffs building to explosions of violence, sometimes unexpectedly dropping into artful lamentations, or spending an entire scene ruminating on the death of a loved one before rising back up to meet the challenge. Lyrics nor compositions are very complex, the riffs and hooks somewhat superficial. But Green Death seems more interested in immediacy, placing guitars and drums right in your face while finding a measure of depth in the tempo changes and variety of atmospheres. Though the production is a bit too smooth and the bass goes ever underappreciated, the modern sound suits the band and allows their melodic sensibilities to shine.
The ugly face of under-editing rears again, however. The first six tracks include an instrumental intro and two interludes, and the tracks are not so grand and spacious they are welcome breathers. Instead, they make the album feel needlessly drawn out, whereas such direct music requires a snappy mindset. Worse is the final track, “Sickle and Scythe,” which dies after about five minutes only to have its corpse dragged around for another three as the band tunes down to funeral doom levels and Sol endlessly repeats the same line. That kind of time wasting does not suit a 53-minute album, and 53 minutes does not suit an album of such simplicity, doom influences or none.
Some slack on the line prevents Hallowmass from being as good as it could have been, but it still manages to surprise. Green Death took an unconventional combo and made it sound natural through naught but simple, consistent writing and solid performances. Mostly, I am curious to see where they will head next. A sound like this can easily tip into the banal, exchanging genuine thrash and doom for metalcore and breakdowns. But if they can shave off the inadequacies while retaining their signature sound, I am certain Green Death have the potential to release something even more remarkable than the flawed yet exciting Hallowmass next time around.