Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell Review

Of the many prevalent writing techniques, my favorite is the Iceberg Theory, created by Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway. The basis of this theory is omission. Quite simply: less is more. Hemingway posited that the more an author knows of their given subject, the more details they may omit, and the reader will naturally fill in the blanks. Finland’s Hooded Menace are lords of death-doom. Their back-catalog is a veritable boneyard of fatal furors that crawl at a corpse pace and exist on the edge of an undead pulse. Indeed, their last album, Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, made a grave impression on many an end-of-year list, mine included. Now, sixth album The Tritonus Bell prepares to resound, and one thing is certain; Hooded Menace are masters of their craft. But this record’s new stylistic choice excludes heft in favor of history and the implication is almost unrecognizable.

Most of you reading this will be familiar with Hooded Menace’s modus operandi. An expectation for certain characteristic guitar tones and a sepulchral curse abound. Instead, The Tritonus Bell is arguably the band’s most doom release to date. To this end, that sempiternal source of remorse has been well and truly plundered in honor of the classics. Familiar shapes of Candlemass, Paradise Lost and even the likes of Mercyful Fate and The Cure are present for all to hear. But where Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed was a celebration of all things fatal and final, The Tritonus Bell rings with a very pure peal.

The first track proper is enough to illustrate the difference. “Chime Diabolicus” opens with a jarringly clean riff. The same brand of sanitized traditionalism that pervades the current Khemmis output sets the stage for a record almost entirely divested of death metal. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Songwriter and guitarist Lasse Pyykkö is audibly enjoying himself on this new material, which does a lot of the heavy lifting. His signature guitar lines, that never fail to evoke the classic pulp horror stories, remain intact. Instead, they writhe through a much more retro narrative. One welcome result is his incendiary lead work, which is a perfect thematic fit for this stylistic shift. Harri Kuokkanen’s growls are almost all that remain as a tether to the filth of old. Fortunately, his gruff voice fits perfectly with the buoyant Shermann and Denner-inspired riff on “Blood Ornaments.” It isn’t until album highlight “Those Who Absorb the Night” that all the elements cohesively align. This is a gothic titan that muses on melodrama and even borrows a little darkwave in its chorus. The track is a fantastic mid-album anchor that cements Hooded Menace as master authors of doom.

As good as the songs are, The Tritonus Bell has some glaring construction issues. The album boasts not one, but two redundant filler instrumentals. These cuts do absolutely nothing to further the record and, instead, just delay the actual material. To make matters worse, the real closing track “Scattered Into Dark” is more frustrating than satisfying. The lead hooks are sharp and the chorus is memorable. But, upon repeat listens, its nine-minute run-time meanders ever-closer into self-indulgence, which is not an issue “Blood Ornaments” has at the same length. Fortunately, the album is a delight to listen to. At a warm DR11, the production and mix have plenty of room to breathe, which allows the track-listing to perform to its highest possible standard.

There can be no doubt that Hooded Menace know their craft. The Tritonus Bell is certainly no exception and, if anything, may well be the album that enjoys a broader appeal. Doom-hounds of all shape and size will sate their appetites with the record’s memorable riffs and excellent transitions. But, while Pyykkö’s penmanship is clear, by omitting much of what makes the band recognizable, he has sacrificed one route for another. Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed succeeded in creating a rotten venous system where all (left hand) paths converged to create one abominable anatomy. I can’t criticize the quality of The Tritonus Bell – as far as songcraft is concerned, it raises a high standard. But identity and quality should never be mutually exclusive, especially not from a band that has shown they can do it all. Play the album loud and revel in the retro rot. Just don’t be surprised if you bump into me on your way back to the tomb a few weeks later…

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: hoodedmenace.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hoodedmenaceofficial
Releases Worldwide: August 27th, 2021

Written By: L. Saunders

Deep into a respectable career of death-doom dominance, Finnish heavyweights Hooded Menace have pulled a switcharoo on their anticipated sixth LP, The Tritonus Bell. No, they haven’t gone all Illud Divinum Insanus on us, but following their past couple of decidedly somber, crushing, funereal marches of 2015’s Darkness Drips Forth, and 2018’s Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, Hooded Menace have pushed the reset button, returning in a sprightlier mood. Mastermind Lasse Pyykkö and his fellow bandmates cite inspiration from classic, traditionalist heavy metal and old school legends such as Mercyful Fate and King Diamond (wake up Doc) behind these new tunes. Don’t quite expect such drastic re-toolings of their signature sound, but the change in tone and pacing is significant. In the seedy AMG backrooms, Khemmis were thrown up as a more contemporary influence, and it isn’t a bad comparison at all, with an abundance of tasty licks, evocative harmonies, and rocking doom meets trad metal anthems in abundance.

While trademark Hooded Menace traits remain, this definitely feels like a more immediate, accessible and livelier mix of heft, groove, and sorrowful melodies, scaling back on the death quotient. Since coming across 2012’s stupendous Effigies of Evil album I have long admired Hooded Menace, though I’ve found their more recent output to take a while to fully absorb and appreciate, dependent on my mood at the time. However, if anything they have grown in stature, so The Tritonus Bell made a different initial impact, gripping with its more immediate, catchy swagger. Overall the sound is certainly cleaner and less grittier than previous albums, however, the authoritative growls of Harri Kuokkanen help retain some of the deathlier elements. Whether it possesses the staying power of their excellent back catalog remains to be seen as the months march on.

Impressive, delightfully infectious dual guitar work from Teemu Hannonen and Pyykkö brings the typical feels, heft and groove one should expect. Some of the riffs possess simple, but instantly headbangable properties to balance out the stellar leads and harmonies supplying the more expressive soulful edge and melancholic currents into the fray. Pushing aside a couple of instrumentals and closing W.A.S.P. cover, leaves five meaty tunes to sink the old chompers into. “Chime Diabolicus” combines elements old and new, showcasing their mastery of crafting interesting longer arrangements; simple, satisfying riffs offset with creative embellishments and smart dynamics. The increased pep and groove crammed into cuts like the 9-minute “Blood Ornaments,” and scattered through the album offers plenty, but thankfully, the band don’t completely shy away from their doomier inclinations, showcasing their bread and butter slow and heavy skillset. Sections of “Those Who Absorb the Light” and excellent “Scattered Into Dark” in particular excel with their brooding, doomier slower sections and striking axework.

As enjoyable as The Tritonus Bell proves to be, it’s not without issues. It takes balls to reinvent yourself six albums deep. However Hooded Menace pull off the transition reasonably well, keenly balancing newer elements into the familiar, comforting confines of their established sound. Inevitably some listeners will be less enamored with the change, including a cleaner, sanitized sonic palette. Although a daringly righteous listen, The Tritonus Bell sacrifices the rawer, deathlier traits that have defined them. Elsewhere, dropping the opening intro and sequencing the instrumental around the middle of the album would help the flow, perhaps switching the mournful leads and bruising grooves of “Scattered Into Dark” into the penultimate slot. Gripes aside, production is bright and lush, boasting an excellent dynamic range, highlighting the band’s wrenching melodies, burly delivery, and diverse execution of varying influences.

I enjoyed my time with The Tritonus Bell from the get-go, and imagine returning to it frequently in times ahead. But some sequencing gripes, a rather throwaway intro, and the surprising stylistic change-up results in a strange, flawed, and oddly fun Hooded Menace experience. Of all the positive descriptors you can throw at Hooded Menace, fun isn’t usually one of them. Decreasing the death and sacrificing some of their endearing musical identity has a somewhat jarring effect, but the songwriting remains engaging and the performances strong, so kudos for the band taking a few risks. Interesting to see where they go next round, but hopefully they aren’t completely set on abandoning their death-doom roots.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

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