Helslave – From the Sulphur Depths Review

When life is kicking you in the arse, death is a comforting antidote. Death metal of course, I’m not that fucking morbid. My prior experience with Italy’s Helslave is minimal, however, I’ve caught up on the Italian worshippers of Swedish death in whetting my appetite for their latest platter of old school splatter. After compiling an impressive slab of ’90s inspired melodic death on debut LP, An Endless Path, Helslave channeled some old timey Stockholm goodness on 2017’s Divination EP. Returning after an extended recording gap, Helslave continue channeling the classic, buzzsawing Swedeath brand on From the Sulphur Depths. Although plenty of bands miss the mark and produce second and third rate clones of the classic sound pioneered by the likes of Carnage, Grave, Dismember and Entombed, it amazes how well this rather simple formula can still be so goddamn satisfying and appealing in the right hands. With 2021 off to a flyer, does Helslave have what it takes to up the ante and breathe new life into the style’s endearingly rotted corpse?

Short answer is, yes they fucking do. Once the cliched spooky intro has subsided, thankfully Helslave cut to the chase on “Unholy Grave,” laying down a barrage of blasts, meaty riffs and massive tones, equipped with the distinctive thrashing charm, groove and thick riffage of classic Swedish death from yesteryear. It hits with a forceful immediacy and refreshingly sharp take on a well worn style, reminding of throwback heavyweights and personal favorite Bloodbath. In fact Resurrection Through Carnage is a relevant reference point throughout the album, as Helslave provide a fresh, inspired take on the legendary Stockholm formula. Don’t get me wrong, From the Sulphur Depths is not of the same caliber of that modern classic, but it is a damn tasty example of the Swedeath style nonetheless.

At a lean and efficient 37 minutes, Helslave don’t overstay their welcome, nor do they deliver any great surprises. Regardless, execution and songwriting is a cut above the many acts with a similar blueprint. The material is loaded with memorable riffs, a distinctly Swedish, sinister melodic undercurrent, and taut, beefy mix of thrashy tempos, doomier slowdowns, and chunky grooves. From both sonic and aggressive perspectives, the album packs a significant punch in the heaviness stakes. Songwriting and tempo variety is present in spades, from thrashy, d-beat driven numbers (“Perpetual Damnation,” “Rotting Pile of Flesh”), chest caving barn burners (“Desecration”), mid-tempo groove beasts (“Last Nail in the Coffin”), and formula challenging throes seeping from doomy, soulful closer, “The Sentence of the Living.” Helslave play a familiar, nostalgic style, but execute with above average finesse and dynamic writing.

Performances are far from mind-blowing from a technical standpoint, however, that has never really been the name of the game for old school Swedish death. Musicianship is highly competent, energetic and tight, with enough flair and creativity in the guitar and drumming departments to override the lack of originality and familiar vibes of the material. Quality riffs are in abundance, backed by solidly constructed, hooky tunes. Special mention to vocalist Diego Laino for a particularly powerful performance, towering above your average death growler, with an immense, expressive roar, tailor made for the style. Self produced by the band ,and mixed and mastered by the one and only Dan “The Man” Swanö, From the Sulphur Depths sounds great, offering a burly mix of polish and heft, though it’s not as dynamic as anticipated. Otherwise it’s hard to identify anything particularly wrong with what Helslave have concocted here. Aside from the opening intro there is no time wastage or filler material, though some tunes cut more imposing figures than others, it is all satisfyingly engaging stuff.

Helslave punch above their unheralded status on From the Sulphur Depths, which finds the wily Italians pumping fresh blood into a tried and true style. A smidgen of extra personality and originality would likely elevate this album to higher honors, and who knows, time might be extra kind to this accomplished and entertaining album, from a band I will be keeping much closer tabs on. Death fiends rejoice and jump on this one.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Pulverised Records
Websites: helslave.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/helslave
Releases Worldwide: April 23rd, 2021

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