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Hell’s self titled demo was a blazing maelstorm of originality and overzealous wonder that bordered on the absurd and over the top with such abandon that it was utterly brilliant. Soon after hearing this masterpiece, I began to hunt down some of the band’s other works. This was a rather unfruitful quest, and only resulted in this and the Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us demo, which while good, felt far more conventional that its predecessor. Demo 1986 completes this transition. Objectively, this is far better than Hell. The production is far clearer, volumes no longer fluctuate with the regularity of someone jumping up and down on the button, and the songwriting is now far cleaner and more thought out. At the same time, one cannot help but feel that Demo 1986 is infinitely inferior to Hell, and lacks some of the instinctual charm that the earlier material possessed.
The guitars still generally play odd leads, but there are far more instances of normal riffing on this release. The bass and drums are both highly audible and lead the groove, as well as the majority of the riffs. The vocals are still great, and are still quite weird, but settle into a more traditional falsetto most of the time and seem to pay attention to the surrounding music far more.
The first song on the album is Plague and Fire. At first, tricked by replacing the ‘&’ on the self titled track name with the spelt out word, I stupidly thought this was an original track. The second the chorus started I recognized it, though. This was one of the strongest tracks on the self titled, and while it’s more restrained here, it’s still a great song and is easily the finest on the demo. The second track, Night of the Living Dead, is the most clear cut NWOBHM song the band ever wrote, or, at least, that I heard. It’s an enjoyable time, and the lyrics are quite amusing, but it’s altogether too laid back for its own good. While it has none of the structural mishaps that frequently plagued the bands earlier songs, it also doesn’t have anything particularly jaw-dropping and isn’t anything too special.
The final track is by far the most interesting on this demo. It’s a complete departure from Hell’s earlier material, and perhaps it’s because of this, and the inherent impossibility of comparison, that I like it so much. It features clean guitar, subtle bass and laid back drumming, with Halliday crooning above it all. The lyrics are quite good, with the chorus being, “Don’t leave me crying, in depths of despair/Don’t let me die in despair.” The entire thing has a somewhat disturbing aspect, due to the Halliday’s imminent suicide at the release of the demo. After this has gone on for a while, the lead guitar comes in and plays a surprisingly mellow and laid back solo. After this, the song picks up a bit of momentum and the electric turns out to be there for the duration, which adds quite a bit of power to the chorus. The track is far from flawless, though. While it’s very good at what it does, it lacks enough energy to sustain itself for the (nearly six minute) duration of the song, and starts to drag by the end.
This is by far the most conventional Hell release. The songwriting is probably better than on any other, but the entire thing feels like it’s missing an important aspect that keeps it from being truly great. The first was conventional compared to the bizarre images of Stunt Cat and his nemesis, the dreaded Elder God, known as Applesauce, that was the Hell demo. This is more conventional compared to Stunt Cat’s afternoon nap on the dashboard. Yeah, it’s an odd place for a cat, but it’s not all THAT odd, and while it may make more sense, it’s not nearly as entertaining a tale. Still, it’s an enjoyable listen, and well recommended for fans of the band’s other work, or general NWOBHM.