Hell Fire – Reckoning Review

I vividly remember writing the review for Hell Fire’s 2019 release Mania. I was sitting in a folding chair in my empty, about-to-be-sold house, passing the time while an HVAC person repaired my apparently damaged furnace. I sat there typing with my headphones on, letting the San Francisco band’s beautiful guitar harmonies and journeyman heavy/speed/thrash metal soothe my heart, a heart still aching from an unanticipated $2000 bill. I remember at the time thinking that I might be underrating Mania, wondering if the stress of moving wasn’t affecting my ability to be objective. Hell Fire seemingly had all the ingredients of a band that I should absolutely love, and, while I thought singer Jake Nunn’s voice felt a bit strained throughout, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the record. Something kept me from dropping one of my patented 4.0s on Mania, but I remember thinking that these guys had that intangible “it” factor that separates the truly great bands from the very good. Three years later, Hell Fire’s fourth record Reckoning has arrived to prove me right.

Last week I told you about a band that is achieving greatness by pushing the boundaries of what thrash can do, and this week, I’ll show you a band that’s achieving greatness by making the old sound new again. Hell Fire’s sound hasn’t changed much in the past three years, but it feels like everything about the band has leveled up. Jake Nunn still sounds like he’s shredding his larynx with every raspy utterance, but this time around, his voice is really clicking with me. Nunn makes up one half of the band’s guitar duo, and he and his partner-in-crime Tony Campos have jammed Reckoning’s 44 minutes with lead and riff work that would make Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, and pre-1984 Metallica proud (maybe even jealous). The embedded video for single “Medieval Cowboys” shows the band in all their glory, the driving rhythms, harmonized leads, and Nunn’s wails transporting me back to a time before I was born, a time when this sound was the newest thing in punk, rock, and metal.

While it’s easy for a band playing a well-worn style to fall into the trap of pure imitation, Reckoning’s diverse track list demonstrates that Hell Fire has the songwriting chops to make this old sound their own. “Reckoning” gets the juices flowing in epic fashion with a “Battery”-inspired acoustic intro before the Maiden leads come in to introduce the song’s sinister main riff. Thrashers will love the frantic energy of “Addicted to Violence,” “Eye for an Eye,” “Nowhere Fast,” and the aforementioned “Medieval Cowboys,” while NWoBHM surfers will ride high on “Thrill of the Chase,” “It Ends Tonight,” and “Many Worlds.” And just to show that they know how to slow things down, “Tortuga Nights” represents the long epic on the album, incorporating copious amounts of melody amongst its heavier parts, and penultimate track “A Dying Moon” is a short ballad featuring beautiful acoustic and electric guitar harmonies and haunting clean vocals.

I’m having an extremely hard time finding anything to criticize on Reckoning. Nunn’s vocals may have rubbed me the wrong way three years ago, but now I can’t imagine anyone else singing for Hell Fire. His delivery just seems so damn real, and it’s a major reason that Hell Fire passes the authenticity test. The guitar work on Reckoning is simply astounding. Nunn and Campos are legitimate masters of classic metal guitar, and everything they do—thrash riffs, speed metal rampages, NWoBHM gallops, molten licks, blazing solos—feels inspired by the metal gods themselves. I’d give you standout tracks, but each and every one of these modern classics needs to be heard.

If there’s a god in heaven, a devil in hell, or any justice (for all) to be found in the universe, at least a small fraction of those people (re)introduced to Metallica by Strangers Things will wander into the Hell Fire Club and apply for membership. Reckoning is the sound of a modern Bay Area band capturing 40-year-old lightning in a bottle and channeling that energy into something authentic and relevant for today. I fear I may come to regret not bumping this score up even higher.1

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: RidingEasy Records
Websites: hellfiremetal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hellfiremetalsf | www.hellfiremetal.com
Releases Worldwide: August 12th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. You now have another bill for $2000 for overrating penalties. – Steel
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