Hellbutcher – Hellbutcher Review

In the 90’s, Nifelheim was a significant player in the burgeoning Swedish black metal scene, keeping a torch lit for the old school thrash-led sound. The band was founded by two brothers, who employed the stage names Tyrant and Hellbutcher, with the latter taking vocal and frontman duty. Though Nifelheim’s on apparently permanent hiatus, Hellbutcher hasn’t been so idle, recently lending his talents to Friends of Hell and cruising around with Dead Kosmonaut a few years ago. But it’s clear the man is tired of messing around. His new band is eponymous, the logo looks like a logical continuation of Nifelheim’s, and the clown car of highly talented and respected musicians could be called a supergroup if it weren’t so laser-focused on the frontman. Necrophiliac of Mordant on guitars, Eld of Gaahl’s Wyrd, Aeternus and others on bass, long time Unleashed member and Dead Kosmonaut buddy Fredrik Folkare on guitars, and none other than Martin Axenrot1 (Bloodbath, Opeth, Witchery and others) behind the kit. But supergroups have a way of disappointing; does Hellbutcher avoid the curse by not calling itself one?

And how! Hellbutcher and friends have crafted an absolute spitfire of an album, a black-thrash masterclass that puts a brick on the gas pedal of the Devil’s personal hellfire-powered chariot. Once the heroic intro of “The Sword of Wrath” finishes, a cavalcade of sharp riffs bursts forth like an unleashed pack of wolves with rocket boosters strapped to their backs, and they remain hungry and fuelled for the entire runtime of Hellbutcher. Hellbutcher leads the charge, of course, and his raw, raspy scream strikes the perfect balance between evil and demented yet coherent and intelligible. The Axe does what the Axe does best; beating an incredibly diverse array of playstyles out of his kit, with dynamics and precision to spare, whether it’s straight blasting or flitting from rolls to gallops to triplets. The superb bass gets far more room than your average black metal band is willing to offer, and the guitar duo weaves an ongoing tapestry of kickass riffs.

Two things stand out from Hellbutcher. One, the band is clearly having an absolute blast. The sense of fun is infectious, from the theatrical camp of the vocals to the out of control riff-fests. “Perdition” changes its pacing with alarming irregularity and “Hordes of the Horned God” sounds like Maiden possessed by demons, both exemplifying the ‘fuck it, let’s ball’ attitude. And two, this line-up sounds tighter than most bands with a half-dozen albums under their belt. All the musicians here being long-time professionals, a number of whom have played together before, is of course a big boon. But as any sports fan who’s seen a team of all-stars falter on the field knows, synergy can be a fickle bitch.

The electrifying wild energy of the front half doesn’t quite make it into the back, however. It loses a bit of the unpredictability, especially on “Death’s Rider” and “Possessed by the Devil’s Flames.” The latter even re-uses the chorus structure of the superior “Perdition,” furthering the nagging ‘yes, it’s great, but.’ Don’t get me wrong; even the back half sounds vastly superior to most black thrash acts today. “Satan’s Power” is a rollercoaster that draws from across the entire metal spectrum, and despite the predictability, I love the black ‘n roll rhythms of “Death’s Rider.” The production is spot-on as well, sporting a warm yet vicious master and excellent mix.

Hellbutcher’s Hellbutcher has created a gobsmacking debut with Hellbutcher. Melodic, dynamic, snappy, lean and mean, this is what classic black thrash is supposed to sound like. It’s a rambunctious ride of gleeful, campy evil that seems to prioritize fun above all else, yet is every bit as tight as a high-strung tech death album. If you feel disappointed at the score below, know that this was right up to the edge of the big four-oh, held back only by a slight watering down in the second half, and I might still regret it later. Either way, I certainly cannot wait for what Hellbutcher and his pals get up to for Hellbutcher 2: The Butchering.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: hellbutcherband.bandcamp.com | hellbutcher.com | facebook.com/hellbutcherband
Releases Worldwide: May 31st, 2024

Show 1 footnote

  1. Who happens to also be a Nifelheim alumnus.
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