Hellfox – The Call Review

As I promised in my list post, I’m once more attempting to pick up the writing habit I successfully maintained for the first half of last year. Alas, this does mean venturing into the notoriously barren January promo box. Worse, I was late and my colleagues had nabbed everything promising. My first selection turned out to be a C-tier early-00s darkwave band so far removed from both metal and good music that even I wouldn’t cover it here. Think Collide, but very boring. Fortunately, I did a bit more due diligence on my second attempt. Hellfox are certainly metal, describing themselves as alt-metal with a melodeath lean. The Call is their debut, and I’m rooting for them to succeed.

Their self-description isn’t far off. Take the closing track “Bleeding Machine,” for reasons I’ll come onto later. Guitarist Gloria Capelli carries the song with a solid melodeathy riff, with some phrases flanged in a slightly 90s throwback way. Greta Antico sings verses in an interesting mode, and is joined on the choruses by Priscilla Foresti’s fantastic, meaty snarls and growls. The preceding track “Your Name” is similar, though with the harsh vocals leading, slightly poppier cleans, and some synth (but not symphonic) riffs. Both of these are strong tracks, elevated by the work of the two vocalists.

The Call‘s biggest downfall is the production. Errors and questionable choices abound. The drums are muted and flat, like they escaped from an 80s goth record and are now wildly out of their depth. At times (“Nothing Really Ends”) they audibly clip. Guitar chords are muddy and unclear. The synths are overly bright. Odd timing issues abound. The drums are at best iffy. At worst (“Raising”), they actively stagger on transitions. In similar places, the synths occasionally (“Haunted”) clash with other melody lines. The clean vocals are thin and weirdly detached from the rest of the band, as if the engineers for the mic and the instruments had refused to speak to each other.

The writing isn’t quite consistent either. The first half suffers from incompletely merging too many influences. The guitars continue their 90s throwback pattern with some groove metally pinch harmonic-inflected leads. This works pretty well, but the other side of the 90s coin is chuggy, monotonous power chords (“Haunted,” “Our Lady of Sorrows”). These achieve neither the ponderous weight of a good doom riff nor the energy of a good death riff and blur together across songs. The poppy clean vocals don’t always mesh. And more broadly, the songs sometimes fail to land their hooks, with the ballad-y “Nothing Really Ends” a particular (in)offender. The second half almost entirely avoids all of these problems, and even the production issues abate a bit there.

All this leaves The Call a deeply frustrating listen. For the first half, the production issues exacerbate the writing issues. Muted and inconsistent drums stumble along at the bottom rather than driving the songs forward. The guitars get mired in flat, plodding chugs. The clean vocals do their own thing. But as the appropriately named interlude “Rebirth” passes, Hellfox pick themselves back up. They demonstrate what could have been, for want only of a different production team and writing to their strengths a little more. My partner summed it up when I made her listen to a couple of songs. On one from the first half: “Thanks for ruining my day.” On one from the second: “I would voluntarily listen to this again.”

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Music for the Masses Records
Website: facebook.com/HellfoxOfficial
Releases Worldwide: January 21st, 2022

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