Hellsword – Cold Is the Grave Review

Oh man. I can’t describe how good it feels to drop my kids of at school again. After nearly two years filled with Zooming, partial in-person, and “your kid has a sniffle, so they have to be home for two weeks,” there is finally some semblance of freedom—knock on wood. My day job gives me a lot of time off during the week, and as much as I love those little monsters, it is simply a joy to hand them off to someone else for a few hours. I roll through the drop-off line, tell the kids I love them, then blast outta that parking lot like a bat outta hell—a very safety-conscious hell bat, of course—as I drive towards a day that is all mine. I usually crank the tunes as soon as the kids are out of the car, and while I’ve tried a lot of different styles, I’ve found blackened speed metal to be the ultimate way to kick off a day of unabashed autonomy and individualism. Lately, Slovenia’s Hellsword has been filling that niche nicely.

Like most blackened speed metal bands, Hellsword channels classic acts like Venom and early Bathory to form the base of their sound, but they also take a few steps into thrash territory, occasionally sounding a bit like debut-era Slayer. Hellsword are just now delivering their debut full-length despite forming way back in 2009, and this extended time together shows in their songwriting maturity. Where most speed metal bands are content to mash the pedal to the floor for an entire album, Hellsword join modern blackened speedsters like Bewitcher and Blackevil in the way they use varied tempos and moods to execute their nefarious plans. Embedded single “Chains of Morality” demonstrates this well, the intro employing a punky rhythm, while the middle section is pure speed metal, and the close falls into a moody—almost doomy—lament.

But as varied and nuanced as things can get on Cold Is the Grave, speed still rules the day. A full minute of epic introduction on opener “Cold Is the Grave” gives way to a spike-studded onslaught that ultimately sets up camp in a snarling groove. That’s when guitarist Ironfist lays down a blistering solo and the track speeds to a close. Hellsword list a few of their favorite things on “Satan, Death and Fear,” an infectious number laced with NWoBHM energy and bluesy solos, and “Riders of Wrath” follows with even more violent intent. Then the album’s middle section comes along to give you a bit of a breather with the sinister duo of “Cursed Blood” and “Unholy Reich.” Both use the atmospheric, mid-paced thrash of Slayer to add some real depth and diversity to an already strong album.

The production is old school, but it comes in on the loud end of the spectrum. The treble can be a bit piercing at the highest volumes, so crank with care. “Unholy Reich” and “Evil’s Rebirth” are relics of Hellsword‘s past, first appearing on 2011 demo Blasphemy Unchained. It’s fun to see how the band’s sound has evolved since then. The upgraded production and a lineup change—bassist Mike Manslaughter recently handed vocal duties over to Ironfist—have really brought these tunes to life. There’s really not a weak number to be found on Cold Is the Grave, but highlights would include the title track, “Riders of Wrath,” “Unholy Reich,” and “Chains of Mortality.”

I’ve had the Hellsword in my inventory for a few weeks now, and I can tell you that it’s a powerful magical weapon. It may not be fancy, but it does devastating damage to wimps and posers alike. If you have a bloodthirst for some blackened speed, give Hellsword a stab. Your ears will thank you.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Emanzipation Productions
Websites: hellsword.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hellswordband
Releases Worldwide: September 24th, 2021

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