Well, it’s been three years since we’ve heard anything from Denmark’s HateSphere. You know what that means. Another HateSphere record. As I’ve said before, I’m only mildly entertained by the Scandinavian groove/thrash of HateSphere. Because of this, they may never receive a glowing review from me1, but I gotta give ’em props. While not the most interesting band in their field, they are definitely one of the most consistent. With a new element here and a new vocal approach there, they keep their fanbase coming back for more. Not to mention they’ve been dropping albums every 1-3 years since 2001. And, now, after nearly two decades as a band, HateSphere is about to drop their tenth full-length release, Reduced to Flesh. If you know the band, you know what to expect. If you don’t know the band, you still know what to expect. Let the Witchery/The Crown/The Haunted/At the Gates name-dropping begin.
Ten seconds into opener “Praeludium” and you’ll know exactly what I mean by keeping things interesting. Mixing passionate clean guitars with orchestration, “Praeludium” ramps up the album with layers of melodic atmosphere. After transforming clean riffs to distorted ones, the song erupts into “Corpse of Mankind.” This new track sets Reduced to Flesh off on a path regularly traveled by HateSphere. It’s stomping groove/thrash riffs and pounding drum work combine with Hansen’s barks, rasps, and screams to deliver a solid mood-setting piece. And, in keeping with the tone set by “Praeludium,” the mid-section of “Corpse of Mankind” is covered in a thin layer of melody. A theme that flows like blood throughout the entirety of Reduced to Flesh.
But, the back-to-back-to-back “Ruled by Domination,” “Reduced to Flesh,” and “Can of Worms” are the most melodic of the bunch. The last two achieve this by using orchestral interludes to break up the song, guiding you into the album’s many bizarre wormholes. While “Can of Worms” is punchier than the other two, it’s melodic transition is as soul-sucking as the instrumental opener. This is an example of how best to use these transitions to make the song stronger. But, after the classic At the Gates riffs and Dani Filth-like backing vox of “Reduced of Flesh” thrash on by, an orchestral interlude replaces them, doing nothing for the song. It actually does so little for the song that it feels like a shitty Super Bowl halftime show. “Ruled by Domination,” on the other hand, is its own beast. It has some strong songwriting and a chorus that stands out beyond the others due to its inclusion of clean vocals.
Along with “Can of Worms,” songs like “Petty,” “Nothing Is Definite,” and closer “Despicable You” are pit-happy, headbangeable pieces with some of the catchiest choruses on the album. “Nothing Is Definite” is like “Can of Worms” in that it produces classic HateSphere tones and attitudes that steal generously from old-school Witchery and The Haunted‘s The Dead Eye. “Petty” is a short, sweet, pissed-off piece that also taps into The Haunted sound to deliver one of the meanest choruses on the disc. But the best of the lot is the closer. Saved for last, this song is everything the band stands for. It’s mean and pissed off, it’s guitars are chunky and crushing, and it’s vocals span Hansen’s entire range. It thrashes and pounds for a good five minutes before closing out the record with a low trudge that is about as death metal as the band has ever come.
While the album flows well from beginning to end—incorporating the melodic with the orchestral—there’re plenty of forced moments on Reduced to Flesh. Most of these come in the way of odd mid-song transitions that need chopping—sparing the song and album unnecessary interruptions. The eerie, useless orchestral interlude of “Reduced to Flesh” sinks its ugly claws into the Testamenty “Afterlife” and the chaotic organ in “Lethal Mistakes” leaves me completely confused. While I don’t expect the band to reinvent the groove/thrash wheel, HateSphere hasn’t done anything more than they did three (or more) years ago. That said, if you are a fan of New Hell, this new record won’t disappoint, as its likeness to New Hell is quite clear. Even if New Hell is a touch better.