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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.