When does homage cross over into plagiarism? When does admiration become unhealthy obsession? These are questions one must confront when reviewing Hellhound by U.K. traditional metal fiends, Monument. Sporting several former members of White Wizzard, the band unsurprisingly sets out to showcase their love of 80s metal in ways so shameless and graphic, decorum almost prevents me from discussing them here. Almost. You see, Monument have a big thing for 80s legends like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. How big? We’re talking creepy shrines in closets and multiple restraining orders on file. Rob Halford once found these guys going through his garbage in the dead of night, and Bruce Dickinson caught them installing micro-cameras in his cockpit. Does all this creepy crushing help the band deliver an album that screams “80s NWoBHM” to the heavens? Well, there’s certainly a lot of screaming at any rate.
The biggest curve-ball here is opener “William Kidd,” which foregoes all things NWoBHM to perfectly pillage the pirate booty of Running Wild. Their delivery is so close to the Teutonic marauders that the song could be dropped on any of their myriad albums and fit in perfectly. It’s a fun, beer stein swinging sea shanty, full of exuberant energy and renegade charm and it takes me back to my happy go lucky days of privateering and clamming on the contested waters off Long Island. Naturally this had me anticipating an album full of pirate yarns, so I was rather surprised when followup track “The Chalice” sounded like it was purloined from Maiden‘s much maligned No Prayer for the Dying platter. It actually sounds like a continuation of that album’s “Holy Smoke,” with a riff verging dangerously close to outright copyright infringement. It’s a fun, hard rocking song despite its copycat nature, but still. The Maiden worship continues on “Death Avenue,” which will remind you a whole lot of “Deja Vu.” In a show of either cheeky self-awareness or total obliviousness, the band includes a cover of that very song as a bonus track here. Making things all the more uncomfortable, the title track is like a slight re-write of Maiden‘s “Ghost of Navigator.” Hey, if you can’t beat em, copy em.
The pilfering continues on “Nightrider” which name drops a number of Judas Priest‘s classic tunes and even directly quotes the lyrics from “Rapid Fire,” which is weird. The song itself sounds far more like Headhunter era Krokus than Priest, so the whole thing feels like a bit of a clusterfuck. I do give the band full credit for rousing, mindlessly olde school chestnuts like “Wheels of Steel” (no, they don’t care Saxon has a classic song by the same name) and “Attila.”1 They aren’t going to end up on anyone’s year-end list, but they’re every bit as reliably retro and rocking as what anyone else is cranking out these days.
While as far from original as an album can get, Hellhound is an easy listen and none of the songs are bad (mostly because they re-wrote good songs from superior acts). Peter Ellis (ex-White Wizzard) has the right kind of voice for this stuff. He sounds like a less charismatic Dickinson for much of the album, but can manage a killer impression of Krokus‘ Marc Storace too. His higher register wailing can get tedious after a time, but this is 80s metal so deal with it! The riff-work by Lewis Stephens (also a Wizzard expat) and Dan Baune is solid, enjoyable and over-the-top, providing enough easy reference points to genre legends to keep everyone happy. The band is definitely talented regardless of how hard they may try to photocopy their idols.
Hellhound isn’t an essential metal album, but if you aren’t too particular about new ideas and innovation in your retro metal (a genre that thrives on a total lack of originality), then you’ll enjoy Monument‘s decidedly non-modern slant on the 80s. For me they take band worship way too far for comfort, and so this Hellhound don’t hunt.