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“Generic” and “mediocre” have essentially become hand-in-hand terms these days, especially in metal discussions. We’ve gotten to a point in metal where it seems like all the possible major bases of metal have been covered and the only way to really do something new in metal is to make some kind of mishmash of these genres, or possibly even incorporate non-metal influences. And of course, humans are creatures of novelty, so at this point it’s incredibly difficult for a metal band to make music completely within the realm of a predetermined genre and still be good. In order to pull this off a band has to genuinely KICK ASS and not just rely on gimmicks. Handful of Hate is one of these bands. They’re far from an innovative or progressive figure in the black metal scene, they’re not really anybody’s favorite band and don’t get talked about much aside from the occasional namedrop here and there, yet they’ve kept kicking for about fifteen years and have a deal with a pretty good label. How did they manage to do it? Well, one listen to Gruesome Splendor pretty much vanquishes any confusion- this thing just smokes. The problem with an album like this, though, is because Gruesome Splendor lacks any novelty, it’s really hard to say WHY it’s good- you can’t point to one particular thing and scream THAT’S WHY I LIKE THIS.
Although the band hails from Italy, they have the typical Swedish sound a la Marduk and Watain- that is, black metal more focused on speed, melody and blastbeats as opposed to evil atmospheres or ferocity. The one minor thing that makes Handful of Hate stand out, if at all, is that they have an even MORE melodic edge than the aforementioned Swedes- the individual riffs have been written to be heard as the most prominent element (with all other instruments complimenting them) as opposed to Swedish BM, which usually uses the guitars as more of a spice rather than the main ingredient, a small piece of the puzzle as opposed to the most predominant component. This makes it even more difficult for Handful of Hate to make music that holds interest, because now they can only rely on one instrument, and the sweeter melodies mean that Gruesome Splendor doesn’t have the veil of “raw hatred” to fall back on, either. But none of that ever becomes a problem, because these are some of the best melodic black metal riffs I’ve ever heard. They’re simple, yet intricate and complex- every riff seems to have been given excessive attention and as such it’s diverse without having to be too adventurous or “progressive”, because every song, every section of a song, hell, every individual riff develops its own niche and identity.
The only problem that occurs with this formula, though, is that when Handful of Hate plays around with anything that isn’t hyperblasting hypermelodic black metal- even just a little bit- the results are quite uncomfortable. After reading a couple interviews with the band, I noticed that they seem to take as much influence from death metal bands as they do black metal bands, and occasionally that dominates the music- there are a few parts, like the opening riffs of “Grotesque Pleasure Rotten in Vice”,”Reproach and Blame” and even a bit of “Ejaculation Dementiae” that use more slower, dirge-y death metal riffing, and it’s not necessarily horribly executed (nothing on this album is) but it just doesn’t really sync up with the rest of the album and kind of puts you on edge- not in a good way though. That being said, the death metal-esque sections are a necessary evil in a way- they break up the flow and prevent it from being too repetitive or monotone, even though they’re detrimental to the album. For instance, the beginning of the previously mentioned “Reproach and Blame” starts off with a rather awkward modern death metal riff that’s probably one of the album’s weakest moments, but when the sugary black metal kicks in a few seconds later it’s just that much more refreshing.
Long story short, there’s a reason these guys have been around for as long as they have. Handful of Hate doesn’t try to dress up their music with wacky ideologies, over-the-top theatrics or 8-minute flute solos- they’re just a bunch of guys who’ve been around the block a few times and know what makes a good extreme metal album and how to deliver it. Gruesome Splendor is a black metal album made by black metal fans for black metal fans, and it should appease anybody who falls into that demographic. There’s nothing absolutely earth-shattering or mind-blowing on here, but Gruesome Splendor is so incredibly flawless in composition and execution that it’s impossible not to praise this highly. Recommended to anyone who needs a little black fuckin metal in their ears.
Handful Of Hate were one of the greatest bands in Italy for the black metal and I’m so sad that they split up. They passed through different kinds of extreme metal during the years and, if in the beginning they played a sort of occult black metal, going on they increased the speed in the albums to pass through Dark Funeral sounds too(Hierarchy 1999). Then, they added a bigger death metal influence in their sound in Vicecrow to continue this path with the last Gruesome Splendour.
They grew a lot since the beginning and now their style is far more brutal and compact. The production is one of the best you can have around, and let’s image for an Italian band! The power of this band is unbelievable. They are almost constantly on fast tempo with lots of blast beats like in the opener “Livid”. The following “Theory Of Perfection” begins fast to sustain an evil riff through less impulsive passages, pointing on the pure malevolence and less on the violence.
The riffage is completely black metal with tremolo pickings in fast succession, sometimes interrupted by some more death metal oriented parts on the power chords. The vocals are the classic, bad ass and completely unmelodic shrieks from hell, filling the air with blasphemy, perversions0 and Satanic devotion. The mid paced parts are almost impossible to find and the band, with the series “Used To Discipline” and “Tied, Whipped…Educated” reaches the peak in brutality. To mark the epic, massive and perverted riffage in this last track. This is a sign that this band doesn’t point only on the pure speed but has a lot of skills also when it’s time to slow down to follow more melodic solutions.
As an example of what I said, check also the following “Grotesque In Pleasure, Rotten In Vice”. This is a long, dark march in pure Marduk style with following speed restarts, but always with the band’s personal touch in the songwriting. In a song like “Reproach And Blame”, the intricate guitars riffage is astonishing and, despite this, is always able to bring a burden of unmatched blackness. Listening to these songs it’s like being run over by an immense mountain of pitch black madness.
Overall, a very good piece of intricate, fast and overwhelming black metal with excellent songwriting and several mature solutions also during the more mid paced parts to carry on the malignance under another form instead of the classic blast beats. A great band.
Cruz del Sur Records is based in sunny Italy, home to temperate weather, exquisite cuisine, and so many power metal bands that an unsuspecting traveler might break his ankle stumbling over one. Such an overwhelmingly pleasant environment must be terribly nonconductive to grimness (ravishing or otherwise), no?
Imagine, then, my surprise upon receiving the latest offering from Cruz del Sur - Handful of Hate’s Gruesome Splendor. I wasn’t expecting much, as I’d never heard of the band before and the aforementioned Italian connection loomed large in my consciousness (which was not aided by the fact that the CD came in a package with two unabashedly OTT power metal releases). As soon as I sucked it up and sat down to listen to Gruesome Splendor, though, I knew that my preconceptions had been all wrong. This’ll teach me not to judge a book by its cover!
Corpsepainted black metal horde Handful of Hate are exactly what their name implies – an explosion of pure venom and dark malevolence, translated into an aural form. Their style of black metal hearkens back to the glory days of the genre; it’s fast, cold, unrelenting, and carries that intangible essence of evil that is so prevalent in good BM. Unlike most BM, however, Handful of Hate demonstrates a clear grasp of the importance of song-writing. Gruesome Splendor features a collection of nine memorable, distinct paeans to rage and violence that maintain their grim aesthetic while embracing melody and varying tempos. This album is an interesting listen, especially for those who seriously enjoy black metal in one of its more primal forms. Ildjarn, this ain’t, but it is suitably raw and hateful, and is well-enough conceived to please the elitists of the genre.
The production on this album was yet another surprise. Black metal as a genre is (in)famous for its dismal production values and fierce defense of “necro” recordings; unless you’re Emperor, a “too-clean” production job will have you branded as false and weak in a matter of minutes by the kvlt elite. Handful of Hate achieves that raw, dirty, “classic” sound, but manage to ensure that the instruments will be heard properly, and that the melodies will have room to peek through (for a reference point, look to 1349’s Hellfire). The guitars are still buzzy and the blastbeats are still punishing – you can just heard ‘em better.
Vocalist Nicola B. employs the standard black metal rasp, at times accompanied by cavernous background howls. The vocals are the only “weak” point of the album due to their generic nature, but fit the music well. This album will be on heavy rotation in my CD player, and is sure to please equally fans of Marduk, early Behemoth, 1349, Dark Funeral, and the like.