Paragon has been nothing but consistent over their 22 year career, releasing album after album of raging Germanic power metal in the same vein as Grave Digger and Iron Savior. Though they’ve had plenty of fun moments, 2012’s Forces of Destruction took a big leap forward in terms of song writing, heaviness and staying power. Coming off their best album to date obviously puts more pressure on the band and perhaps that’s the reason for the 4 year wait for Hell Beyond Hell. And after that long wait you get even more of the same furious, quasi-thrash power with the same high testosterone quotient and unerring commitment to over the top metallic clichés. But is it up the newly high standards set by its lofty predecessor?
Sadly, no. Though there’s plenty of steroid soaked cheese salad to enjoy here, it’s definitely a return to Earth for the veteran rockers. There are the usual barn burners sure to make you raise the Immortal Fist ov Steely Wengeance, but there’s some chaff as well. “Rising Forces” is the perfect opener with furious riffing and a foaming-at-the-mouth vocal performance from Andreas Babuschkin. It’s like Grave Digger and Accept on meth and Thorazine and so metal you can actually feel the welding seams. It’s the kind of song you can imagine playing as you race through a forest on a Harley pursued by ravenous demons, which obviously makes it useful to keep around. The title track is more of the same meat and taters Germometal with thick, chunky riffs powering things along as Andreas wails away like a dire wolf with a leg stuck in a steel trap (ov iron). It’s fun and saucy even though you’ve heard the same thing a million times, mostly due to the deadly serious (and therefore silly) delivery and ridiculous trveness factor.
The one-two punch of “Stand Your Ground” and “Meat Train” is the album’s high point, with both cuts blasting away mindlessly, proudly oblivious to the fact it’s no longer 1987. The latter is especially charming in it’s knuckle-headed Accept-isms and unswerving desire to rock you to hell and back with a transfer at Hamburg, Germany. “Buried in Blood” is another bruiser worth mentioning with a memorable chorus approximating Grave Digger at their very best.
Paragon runs into trouble when they attempt longer, more “epic” songs, like the nearly 8-minute “Heart of the Black.” It isn’t terrible, but they go too far outside their narrow comfort zone by attempting a mix of power-balladry, emotional hubba bubba and trve metal glory. It comes across like an awkward, overwrought and overlong fighting song for pre-teen LARPers, it drags a lot on the back-end and doesn’t fit the raging cheese-doodling that surrounds it. “Devil’s Waiting Room” is even longer at 9-minutes, but fares better due to its more anthemic attitude. Still, you don’t look to these guys for your epic metal and they’re much better off rocking short, sweet tracks of Teutonic terror.
At 55 minutes Hell Beyond Hell feels too long in the fang and the 2 extended tracks disrupt the speedy momentum built by winners like “Meat Train.” This is definitely a band that should aim for 9-10 quick cuts of angry Germanic speed and get out at the 45 minutes mark.
Andreas Babuschkin is the heart and soul of the Paragon sound and you either love his nasal rasp or you don’t. He sounds like a barbarian chieftain with bronchitis barking war commands on a cold winter day and his style always amuses and entertains me. He’s a nice departure from the Udo school of snarling and definitely gives the band a unique flavor. The backbone of the band is the heavy riffing of Martin Christian and relative newcomer Jan Bertram and they do a fine job here propelling the cheddar along the conveyor belt. They borrow much from the Accept style of dual guitar heroics and nail it dead to rights on most songs.
If you enjoyed any of Paragon‘s prior platters you’ll like this one too. It gives you everything you want from this style of metal and the writing keeps the material fun and furious more often than not. After a long day, what’s better than popping open a beer, blasting this kind of lowbrow noise and lowering your I.Q. to caveman levels of drooling metalhead slobbery? Very little.