In the topsy-turvy life of a metal reviewer, there will be bands that you can’t help but root for. Maybe it’s their personal affability or because they’re trying something new or unusual. Sometimes you’re not even sure why you’re kindly disposed toward a specific band. Enter West of Hell, a quasi-thrash/traditional metal collective and their second release, Blood of the Infidel. Their sole notable member is one Chris “the Heathen” Valagao, who’s best known for his time fronting the zany Zimmer’s Hole1, and though I never heard of his new band before, I quickly found myself rooting for them. Some of that comes from enjoyment of Heathen’s past works, but it’s also their specific style, which sounds like an unrefined version of Pantera‘s Cowboys From Hell forced through a shaved Iced Earth machine. This is a platter powered by big riffs and bigger vocals, designed to get your testosterone and blood alcohol levels up and inhibitions down. If it had a smell, it would be that of sweaty denim, cheap beer and cheaper cigarettes. It’s not pretty or fragrant, but is it a good metal album?
All the essential ingredients for an ass kicking metal opus are here, but there are some big issues standing in the way of ultimate success. There’s a lot to love on opening boot to the face, “Hammer and Hand.” The heavy riffing, the bigger-than-life vocals of the Heathen, the huge attitude, it’s an absolute bunker buster of a three-minute song, so what’s the problem? Well, the actual song runs almost 7 minutes, and by the halfway point, the cool things the band do start to become tiresome and tedious as they plod on with little variation and too much repetition. Even more unfortunately, this problem infects much of the album. “Chrome Eternal” would be a dandy 3-4 minute tune full of burly riffs, manic vocals, excess and lusty overdrive, but again, the 7 minute mark gets pushed and it’s too much of too muchness to maintain interest.
There’s a really good song buried in the 6-plus minutes of “Infidels.” Its a got a wicked thrash energy, the Heathen is off the chain vocally, and the sharp, crisp riffs smoke. It actually sounds like System of a Down trying to be a trve thrash act, which I didn’t know I needed, but apparently do. Everything works in the band’s favor, but they simple can’t un-Metallica themselves, and things meander on, getting more annoying as they go. There are at least 3 natural stopping points before the song hits the 5-minute mark, but all are ignored on the way to infinity and beyond. Things get even worse when they let it all hang out on the nearly 9 minute “Dying Tomorrow,” which runs aground despite there being a respectable song at its core elevated by some stunning guitar-work. It all goes back to a Pantera analogy. Even at their peak, did you want them writing 7 to 10 minute songs? Hell no! You wanted short, stout meatheaded anthems of bench press bravado and misdirected anger. This is where West of Hell really misses the plot.
At 47 minutes, the bloated nature of most of the songs makes it feel much longer. From a performance perspective however, this is one tight, talented band. Sean Parkinson is a righteous lead guitar player, and his riffing style is appropriately confrontational and aggressive. His solo-work and forays into acoustic noodling are highly impressive and at times quite beautiful. He and Jordy Knute carve all sorts of thrashy grooves through your gray matter as Blood of the Infidel unspools, sometimes adding proggy touches to the leads. There are ample nods to Dimebag and Jeff Waters (Annihilator) along the way, and they do their best to keep the music vital and interesting even as the song lengths fly over the cliff. Mr. the Heathen reprises the role of psychotic devil bear from his Zimmer’s Hole days, howling, wailing, screaming and cackling like a mad hatter on meth. The man is a vocal volcano and his charisma helps make even the bloated material more tolerable.
I was rooting hard for Blood of the Infidel to overcome its flaws and grow on me, and to an extent it did. There’s some punchy metal to be had here, if only they’d learned less can be more. Still, this platter has its strengths and there’s no better proof than the fact I enjoy much of it despite major editing missteps. I need more precision in my knuckle sandwiches ov metal, but I’m still rooting for these filthy cretins.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Releases Worldwide: April 1st, 2019
- They of the timeless song “While You Were Shouting at the Devil…We Were in League With Satan.” ↩