Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hell-Curse & Chapter

Nuclear Blast Records

Having grown up in a Christian household rock music was considered dangerous. As I listen to Hell's
second full-length album, "Curse And Chapter" for the second time now (and that's after UPS dropped it off sometime last night after 7pm!) I'm drawn back to my youth when the devil wasn't so much in the details, but rather taking center stage for all to see through the likes of Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Iron Maiden and hundreds (thousands?) more! I spent grades 4-8 in a private Christian school where we had anti-rock crusaders* come in to preach to us ("The Devil inside" by INXS was about demonic possession? Really?) and I had the misfortune of being forced to sit and watch anti-rock preachers on VHS tapes (for those youngsters out there a VHS tape was what we used to watch movies on back in the days of cavemen and dinosaurs!) tell me how everyone from Cyndi Lauper to Queen was helping to usher in a new hell on earth! I always kid that at least being forced to watch the video tape turned me onto some great acts like The Lords of the New Church! But, now that I hear this new Hell about I must admit that maybe the devil, who is said to have all of the best bands anyway, is pulling the strings of this British occult metal act? No, not really. The real evil in is this world isn't found on an album like "Curse & Chapter". If you won't to see real evil then find yourself a map and look for Washington D.C. What we have with this traditional heavy metal five-piece is a band that is effectively lead by the theatrical David Bower who, in addition to be a splendid lead vocalist (think Rob Halford with a bit of King Diamond mixed in for good measure!) is also a part-time actor! In addition to David Bower the band features David's brother Kev (guitar and keys), Tony Speakman (bass), Tim Bowler (drums) and, last but not least, the exceptionally talented Andy Sneap (guitar). Musically Hell really doesn't sound like anyone other then Hell. Sure, you could draw parallels between Hell and the likes of Judas Priest, Merciful Fate/King Diamond, Satan and even Iron Maiden. But that would be selling both Hell and their sophomore recording short. "Deathsquad" for one features great keys that come across as partly Uriah Heap and partly potential soundtrack mater for Dr.Who! And really the opening of "Something Wicked This Way Comes" rivals anything Lars Ulrich and his bandmates released on Metallica's first three LPs! For a band like Hell, which arose from the ashes of Paralex and Race Against Time back in 1982, "Curse & Chapter" is a remarkably fresh revelation that traditional heavy metal still has plenty of lifeblood left in it! Speaking of Race Against Time, that group's cool track "Harbinger of Death" is covered here and it's a real keeper! And thanks to tracks like "The Age Of Nefarious", "Darkhangel" (possibly the best cut on "Curse & Chapter"), "Deathsquad", "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Land Of the Living Dead" this is one release that is sure to make the "Best Of" lists of many a fan and critic alike! Now for the million dollar question. Is it better then it's predecessor, "Human Remains"? In some ways yes, I'd say that it is. With more original compositions it feels more complete (if that makes sense) and relevant. It's hard to find a fault with "Curse & Chapter" other then it's (overly) critical and cynical viewpoint of Christianity. Considering that Christians are the last group left that you can still hurl vile insults at without any public outrage (no to mention the fact that you can disparage Christians and discriminate against them without fear of legal repercussions) it's just far too easy a target. Some of the lyrics, try "Deliver Us From Evil" for example,  are so cheesy and anti-religious that I felt like I was listening to a recording by Cronos! I normally try to refrain from mixing music discussions with religion discussions, but if a band like Hell really believes that Jesus Christ is the biggest threat our world is facing then they haven't been living on the same planet as I have for the last 40 years! The band is better suited (and much more original and interesting in my opinion) when they cover historical events or go after the greed of men (and yes, quite a bit of organized religion!) then when the go after a man who said to "love your neighbor as yourself". Just my two cents though and it's not a topic that will keep me from recommending this release and/or adding it to my "Best of 2013" list!

* No names please, but we were subjected to a set of (twin) gentlemen who, on more then one occasion, told us that everything we liked back then (in my case it was everyone/everything from AC/DC, Ratt and Heart to INXS, U2 and the Beach Boys) was just flat-out WRONG! Then, as a twenty something year old, I remember having one of them ring the doorbell of a party I was at of my then girlfriend/now ex-wife's Uncle's house. It was strange seeing this individual who had once condemned my choice of music now serving as a real estate agent!  Even more so I think I showed up at the front door with a beer in my hand! I'm not sure I ever got the full "benefit" of private school now that I think about it!

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