Hell:on – Scythian Stamm Review

Gaze upon that glorious and fearsome artwork, if you dare! What beauty! What horror! Having never heard of Ukraine’s Hell:on, I was initially unimpressed by the band’s name — specifically that tricksy colon — and subsequently passed over the promo during my perusal of the bin. But when I saw this simultaneously exciting and terrifying art while scoping out the competition at another blog, my interest was renewed. After conducting some research, I learned that Hell:on is a stylized — and search engine optimized — version of “Hellion,” and that Hell:on have been peddling their wares since 2005. Their base sound has always been a heavily thrash-infused style of death metal, but over time they’ve incorporated more and more traditional folk instruments, ritualistic textures, and symphonic arrangements to evolve into what feels like a different beast entirely. Is the band’s sixth album Scythian Stamm just another stepping stone along the path of this evolution, or will it see Hell:on achieving their highest form and taking on genre alphas for the title of apex predator?

In short, the kings and queens of death metal had better circle around the weaker members of the herd, because these Ukrainian monsters are out for blood. While 2015 release Once Upon a Chaos… was certainly no slouch, Scythian Stamm sees Hell:on’s sound taking a monumental leap forward. While I’m generally not a proponent of thrash-reduction surgery, the band have morphed from a clear death/thrash outfit into a full-fledged death metal band, incorporating thrash and black metals and symphonic and folk elements to bolster their ferocious sound. Check out embedded single “My Testament” below to see the band paying homage to Ukrainian artistic and literary giant T.G. Shevchenko with a monstrous delivery of one of his poems. Tribal rhythms permeate the thick death metal track, an absolutely stellar solo section bisecting it before it closes with an ominous spoken word version of the poem in Ukrainian. Overall, it’s a pretty good example of the way that Hell:on combine their many influences into a effective and cohesive whole.

Clocking in at ten tracks and 55 minutes, I was worried that it would be impossible for Hell:on to maintain whatever momentum they might be able to conjure throughout the entire runtime, but my concerns were not only unfounded, they were totally obliterated. Like their countrymates 1914, Hell:on are adept at using atmosphere to enhance their punishing style, allowing Scythian Stamm to be a captivating experience despite its longer runtime. “Movement of the Godless” is a great sample of this strategy with its slow-churning ritualistic and symphonic intro giving way to an angry Behemoth blackened death theology lesson before an immense outro riff arrives bearing emotive Spanish-style guitar and deep choral chants. “BSB” brings the jaw harp to the party, the folk instrument backing a ferocious symphonic death metal assault that demonstrates Hell:on’s ability to effectively use faster sections and slower grooves in equal measure. It’s a track that reinforces my feeling that Fleshgod Apocalypse — if you swap out their medieval instruments and the noodly neoclassical bits for Hell:on’s traditional instruments and oriental/folk textures — is a decent comparison.

A nice, modern production captures the band’s genius in all of its weighty glory. The mix is spacious enough for the traditional instruments to cut through even the densest death metal, and the symphonic bits seem to complement the guitars, creating a colossal sound. It took a while for the relatively homogenous vocals of Olexandr Bayev to win me over, but win me over they eventually did. Its quite an accomplishment to create 55 compelling minutes of death metal music without throwing in some vocal variety, but these guys pull it off by injecting variety through other means. There are no dips in quality throughout Scythian Stamm, though it might be a bit backloaded with tracks five through ten being especially strong. But this simply means that you’re listening to an album that knows how to build off of its own momentum. Listen to the whole thing, but check out “Movement of the Godless,” potential death metal song of the year contender “The Denial of Death,” and “BSB” for a good sampling of what Hell:on is all about.

Given the fact that I chose this album purely for the artwork, and given the album’s November release, I was not expecting to emerge from this review with a top ten contender. On Scythian Stamm, Hell:on have evolved their sound into a fresh and nuanced take on death metal and the rest of my year-end list is trembling in fear. The 4.0lidays are upon us.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hell Serpent Music
Websites: hellonband.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hellonofficial | www.hell-on.net
Releases Worldwide: November 1st, 2020

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