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Hazael is a band that seems to have slipped through the cracks of even the typically tight-knit Polish death metal scene; I had never heard of them until I was offered a trade by Psycho Records, the label which released this digipak reissue of the band's first two demos. The actual musical content is more surprising than one would imagine; though I haven't heard Hazael's full-lengths, it doesn't seem entirely impractical that they later transformed into a full-fledged doom/death band, as these tracks greatly resemble, in places, a less romantic and desolate version of the later 'As The Flower Withers' as well as a great deal of Swedish death metal and early American doom-flavored death ala Autopsy. Certainly, there's a greater uptempo thrash presence in this music, occasionally bringing 'Altars Of Madness' to mind, but overall the doom flavor of this release is omnipresent and clear, if displayed in an unrefined and raw form.
This band's style of death/doom/thrash metal seems to revolve on this disc around Grave or early Entombed-style churning midpaced death crawls, mostly eschewing the more melodic leanings of Dismember for a more intensely dark and occult atmosphere. The opening track 'The Ritual' is quite an effective piece of music for what is in essence an intro, bringing to mind some of Autopsy's interlude tracks, but the band diverges from there with the rest of the CD typically being more uptempo and aggressive. The overall tone of this release is quite curious; it has the same dismal, Latinate atmosphere of very early My Dying Bride but without any of the more romantic and depressive leanings of that band, making for music which bleakly trudges along but has a spirit of anger and misanthropy to it which is hard to find elsewhere. The riffs are twisted and strange, Swedeath by way of Morbid Angel, with long streams of tremolo and thrash beats periodically interrupted by slower, more atmospheric passages, wrapped up with throaty growls for vocals and a submerged, nonintrusive drum presence. The songwriting is surprisingly strong given the clear youth and inexperience of the works, though prone to drag on, as Hazael's music does, for the most part, lack variation.
What nearly kills this CD for me, though, is the production, which is nearly unlistenable on 'Chapel Of Doom' and only marginally better on the later rehearsal. It brings to mind modern, reverb-caked black metal, with everything distorted, distant, and submerged under layers of tape hiss and murky, indistinct mixing. Riffs are hard to decipher and the instruments tend to merge into a single sludge which, though fairly heavy, makes it difficult for the listener to engage when they're struggling to interpret what's going on. If there was some sort of remastering process for this release I would prefer it greatly, but as this reflects very early '90s demo-level production values, I can't say at any point that I'm able to sink my teeth into Hazael's music.
This is one of the few cases in my collection where production seriously damages the overall quality of a disc; while I like these demos, the sound is simply too poor to ignore and really draws attention away from what are otherwise very strong songs. Those a bit more acquainted with the early tape-trading scene or very poor sound quality in death metal might be able to get around this inconvenience more, but as it is, I can only tenuously recommend this to dedicated fans of oldschool death metal.