If anything can be said about HateSphere, it’s that they know how to please their fans. Though many of us crave a bit more diversity across a fifteen-year career, the fact that HateSphere drops consistent album after consistent album every couple years is enough to please (almost) anyone. HateSphere‘s consistency is the result of founding guitarist Peter Hansen and his continued navigation along the course set by 2001’s self-titled debut. Always heavy, always thrashy, and always with a touch of melody, the only real variation from album-to-album is the vocal performance. The band’s first vocalist, Jacob Bredahl, gave his best Tomas Lindberg impression to HateSphere for five albums before being replaced by Jonathan Albrechtsen on 2009’s To the Nines. Albrechtsen came into To the Nines with death in his voice—and a similarity to The Haunted‘s Marco Aro—but his era ended quickly. Esben Hansen took the reins on the groove-happy The Great Bludgeoning; interspersing the signature HateSphere belts with Peter Wiwczarek-isms. The Great Bludgeoning marked a new era for the band and a renewed passion in the music. But can these gents deliver the same level of groovy, hooky, accessible songwriting on New Hell?
Well, they try pretty damn hard. New Hell, like The Great Bludgeoning, dishes out thrashy licks, groovy foot-stompers, and plenty of melodic subtleties. New Hell, unlike Murderlust and some of their mid-career records, is concisely and consistently crafted, making for a more streamlined record that doesn’t feel like a crate of hate-themed landmines. However, New Hell is still HateSphere to its core and high expectations for ground-breaking songwriting or the elimination of filler should be quenched immediately. That said, most of the choruses work well and the layered combination of rasps, barks, and yells result in some of the catchier and more accessible material in HateSphere‘s catalog.
“The Executioner” gets things rolling in classic HateSphere fashion, fusing their typical pissed-off attitude with a hooking chorus designed to snag you in the jaw. “Head on a Spike” and “Master of Betrayal” continue this aggressive hookiness, piling riffs on top of melodic choruses and sending this hate train careening through every station. “Head on a Spike” opens with soothing guitar cleans before the band unleashes some trashy Haunted riffs, while “Master of Betrayal” beats you down with a monstrous chorus perfectly suited to Esben’s Vader-esque barks.
For those itching for some HateSphere groove, look no further than “The Longest Haul” and the title track. Both will equally get your head bobbing, but “The Longest Haul” is simply addictive. Its groovy main riff, melodic chorus, and clever effects-laden guitar lead toward the end do a fine job of forcing a smile on my face. Between the catchy and the groovy sits the beauty-and-the-beast instrumental “On the Shores of Hell” and the “epic” “The Grey Mass.” The former lays down Testament-inspired clean guitars before unleashing some atmospheric distortion. It’s a great piece and a well-executed intermission to the record. “The Grey Mass,” on the other hand, fuses the heavy with the melodic in its five-and-a-half-minute runtime. Maybe not as epic a closer as the one on Serpent Smiles and Killer Eyes, but “The Grey Mass” does a fine job of helping the listener spend the last of their white-knuckle rage.
All that said, New Hell isn’t terribly new. Tracks like “Line Crossed Lives Lost” and “Your Sad Experience” don’t pack staying power and Esben’s vocals, while crushing, don’t add new dimension to the music. The instrumentation and vocals are well-balanced and the production is clean, but Tue Madsen’s mastering is, unsurprisingly, quite loud. Regardless of these shortcomings, Hansen delivers meaty riffs and Mike Park Nielsen (ex-Mercenary) is as tight as ever. New Hell is another anger-filled slab of Danish thrash, brimming with chunky riffs, crushing drum work, and another angry-as-hell vocal performance. Though New Hell may not top last year’s The Haunted outing, it sure as hell should help with all your snow shoveling.