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Feel the Radiation from the Balkan Underworld - 99%

bayern, March 20th, 2017

It’s a real shame that I’ve been writing like crazy, praising the music of acts from all possible corners of the world, when I merely have to look into the very heart of the scene in my own hometown of Varna, in order to find real metal greatness. I’ve long since reviewed this act for my site, but I haven’t found the time to drop a few lines about them on the archives here… It’s high time, the Lord of the Underworlds says.

The band under scrutiny here are the oldest metal band in Bulgaria having started their career around 1986. I saw many of their concerts including the one in 1988 in September, several days before the beginning of the new school year and less than two months after the Russian titans Kruiz shook the Black Sea Coast with their metal hymns. On that day the Hades team gave all-instrumental rendition of nearly their entire catalogue to standing ovations. An amazing feat which was actually caused by the vocalist Pavlin Neichev’s sudden departure, merely a month before the aforementioned concert. Soon it was all over for the others as well as they had to join the Bulgarian Army for the obligatory two-year service.

I never got to know the band personally, which is a shame I have to admit, the way I did the other great speed/thrash metal outfit from Eastern Bulgaria, Ira Deum; so I tried to figure what took the guys so long to come back in the game, and we’re talking more than twenty fucking years. Yes, I know, the boring 9-5 job duties, the struggle to survive in the hostile post-socialist environment, and only God knows what other crap; all this must have added up to the band members’ disillusionment and a lack of inspiration. But comes 2010 and literally out of the blue comes this compilation album. Most of the tracks sound familiar since I still keep the cassettes from the good old days where some of these numbers can still be heard. However, this collection comes with a great sound quality with some of the compositions tweaked around in order to match the higher production demands of the time.

It was such a delight to find these 13 tracks closing on over an hour that it took me a while before being able to appreciate them for what they are, in a more objective less biased manner I mean, once all the flooding memories of those crazy times have passed. But even without the nostalgic value attached to it this opus is nothing short of outstanding. It makes me realize what great musicians we had back them, matching every single Shrapnel practitioner, and some more. Cause this is very guitar-oriented music, a shredfest of the highest order from beginning to end. The imposing operatic intro of the opening “Hades” can hardly disguise the speed/thrashing “carnage” that follows the band moshing with all the vigour they can muster with superb blazing leads flying around courtesy of Vladimir Jambazov, the ultimate Bulgarian guitar wizard. “Let the Day Be” tones it down with a more laid-back speed metal delivery, and “Heavy Chains” shatters the environment with seismic volcanic riffs before impetuous gallops bring things back within the speedy norms. “Crusaders” also tries to conceal its vigorous speed/thrashing nature with a portion of tender balladisms, but this is a fast-paced rifforama at its most shining best. “Fireborn” is an epic galloper with echoes of Attacker, and “Heaven & Hell” is of course a Black Sabbath cover… kidding here, this is the next in line hard-hitting thrasher the shreds acquiring more serious progressive shades not without the help of Jambazov whose dazzling fretwork is pure Tony Macalpine and Jason Becker.

The complexity only goes up from here as “Dark Alleys” is an intricate progressive thrashterpiece with echoes of more aggressive death metal-ish feats; and “Lines Inscribed…”, apart from having the longest title in metal history which I simply couldn’t feature here to the fullest, is a stunning technical speed/thrashing number with some of the most outlandish hooks this side of Mekong Delta and Coroner thrown in nonchalantly among the precise steely shreds. “Hero” introduces keyboards as a new gimmick, another misleading disguise as this cut is a most raging headbanger the band moshing with reckless abandon leaving the more lyrical escapades for the slower and more pensive “Stardust”, a progressive power metal composition with volcanic dramatic riffage. “Vampires” “flirts” with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as “an appetizer”, but the speed/thrashing “assault” is guaranteed after that with more technical arrangements served those again with a more brutal death metal-ish flair; Jambazov is in his nature on this one with enchanting lead sections handsomely provided at every opportunity. “Party with the Devil” is an encompassing 10.5-min saga based on a poem by the renowned Bulgarian writer Hristo Smirnenski; music-wise this is a virtuoso display of the guys’ talents including the one of Neichev whose vocal timbre moves towards the higher registers emitting a lot of drama and pathos fitting the literal source. Expect again stylish technical “excursions” akin to the two aforementioned outfits interspersed by dashes of melodic tunes. A grandiose achievement on all counts followed by the 4-min instrumental “beauty” “Inspiration” which gives Joe Satriani and Steve Vai a very good run for their money Jambazov a shredding maniac here, arguably the finest guitar player The Balkans have ever produced.

The world was waking up for metal in the mid-80’s, and The Iron Curtain couldn’t have possibly stopped its invasion. I see our favourite music the major reason for the downfall of communism since soon after its acceptance in The East The Berlin Wall collapsed, and the whole system went downhill from there. Even The Crickets, the most celebrated music formation in the history of Bulgaria, became fascinated with these new possibilities. Alongside Ahat’s “The March” and Impulse’s “Gladiator” this collection of hymns here remains one of the three most important works of classic metal Bulgaria ever spawned. It’s the most aggressive recording of the three laying the foundations for a sizeable thrash metal scene in the country during the early/mid-90’s (Era, Crash, Agresor, Nightmare, Absolute, Ira Deum, etc.).

What was even better was that the release of the album reviewed here was the start of a new active period for the guys with Neichev back in the fold. It was followed by “Radiation” two years later, a brand new creation of old school progressive/technical power/speed/thrash anthems the band in a very good shape to play a more prominent role on the metal scene of the new millennium. The Jambazov/Neichev collaboration continued unabated, and in 2014 another opus appeared, “The Time”, performed live, featuring another exemplary assembly of prime old school delights. Then Neichev spent some time to launch his solo career which began with “Samael-Angel of Death” in 2016, a more progressive power metal-fixated opus, but retaining the high quality all over. Needless to add, Jambazov is responsible for the first-class guitar pyrotechnics on it. Mentioning the latter, he also took some time off Hades to release two more collections (2014 & 2016) of old material of a project he got involved in the late-80’s/early-90’s named Total, a power metal act whose members have no intentions on reforming for the time being.

The underworld heroes are back, and it seems as though they’re not planning to go back there in the long term. The new environment seems to suit them only too well, and I guess it won’t take long before the rest of the metal world start feeling the pressure from their radiation-dense musical endeavours.