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Hell is one of the weirdest bands I’ve ever heard. They’re NWOBHM without a doubt, but describing them like that and then walking away would give completely the wrong impression. While the core element of their music might be familiar, it’s packed with so many odd touches that it’s impossible to picture it without hearing it.
The first track starts with one of the strangest intros I’ve ever heard. It sounds like someone saying ‘gobble gobble’ (turns out they’re saying ‘double double’. I don’t buy it.) as well as a few other phrases in a stunningly high-pitched voice, forming the intro lines to Macbeth, the track’s namesake. After that the lead guitar comes in and ushers in the song proper, and trust me, it’s only going to get odder. It took me several listens to decide if I even liked this album, or if it was merely an incredibly twisted curiosity.
The guitars are quite interesting. They frequently occupy themselves playing leads, and most of these are quite good, as are the solos. The tone is incredibly weird, almost buzzing in a way, and painfully high at times. They dart about on the top of the album, and have almost no low end to speak of. A slight problem of this is when the riffs are trying to be heavier, for instance during On Earth as it is in Hell, where the heavier riff part way through the song falls flat due to the lead-oriented tone. They also fluctuate quite frequently in volume. The drumming is fairly standard, yet the beats and rhythms always feel odd for some reason I’m unable to pin down. It’s also quite quiet, and is frequently buried between the guitars. The bass locks in with the drums rather than the guitars for the most part, and the two of them play the majority of the riffs while the guitars do off kilter leads. This can sometimes work stunningly well, although it can occasionally result in far too much chaos and confusion to properly make much out.
By far the strangest part of this album is the vocals. They sound something like Jello Biafra, only even higher and wilder. The second thing they remind me of is the simpson’s episode where they’re watching a ‘horror’ movie (The Bloodening) about the psychic kids who know everything. Throw in some Geddy Lee, and make ‘em higher, weirder, and even more kickass, and you might have a faint idea of what Dave Halliday sounds like on here. The vocal lines are weird as hell in addition. Sometimes they match up perfectly with the guitar, the repetition of the “gobble gobble”…er, “double double” during Macbeth, or instance. At other times they merely go across the rest of the music with abandon. The lyrics fit well with the music and vocals, although when looked at separately aren’t particularly impressive. An example from Plague and Fire is as follows: “Raging pox and pestilence are dripping with the blood/The slavering black dog roams everywhere/Smites the ones he bites, and drags the ones he misses down, the worst is yet to come/1665 turns into 1666, a dread like none before grips every man/As the prince of darkness sets aloose his wicked bag of tricks/will the evil lord unleash his master plan?” Good, if a bit more effect oriented than meaning oriented.
The song writing is just as odd as the music for the most part. The strongest track is probably Let Battle Commence, which features stunning interplay of guitars and vocals during the opening and several of the later verses. Blasphemy and the Master is one of the weirder tracks. It starts with the leads playing a solo esque intro with the drums slowly keeping time, before exploding into the song. The most interesting part occurs about halfway through, when almost everything drops out and the vocals sing a high-pitched hymn to Satan. Moments like this aren’t that rare, which is great, because they’re awesome. The most Dead Kennedies look alike moment occurs in the beginning of the next track, Deliver us From Evil where the bass and drums play a fast punky riff with accompanying vocals. Later in that song there’s a somewhat confusing part where everything stops mid riff, has an interlude, and then comes back with a different riff, only to end right afterwards, which is jarring, to say the least. Quite possibly the greatest solo section on the album is on Plague and Fire, where the guitar plays a rapidly ascending lead that quickly fades out of hearing before repeating, while the bass and drums groove along. The intro to the final track, the Devil’s Deadly Weapon also bears mentioning. It’s the only place on the album with synths, and it’s so damn cheesy that it’s simply incredible. Much of the following song, while good, is uncomfortably buried in lingering static from preceding riffs that make some sections hard to make out.
The entire release is packed with an incredible amount of energy. It occasionally goes a bit overboard (some transitions feel completely left out, sometimes there’s simply too much random stuff going on,) but for the most part it works brilliantly. The leads and riffing is great, and the vocals are jaw dropping. Once you’ve gotten past how weird it is, most people are going to then realize how great an album this is.
There's something about NWOBHM that just makes it so...metal! It's like finding a black metal demo from Norway that came out beween '89 and '94...chances are it's gonna be good. I've yet to hear anything bad from the NWOBHM, it's that fucking good. I really can't think of a good metaphor. It's like pizza. Some pizza is really great, but even the really shit pizza, with burnt crust and scarce toppings and an unbalanced peppers/meat ratio is still good, in and of itself.
The recording for this demo, for all intents and purposes, is shit. There's some thick, heavy static, all the instruments are deeply muffled, there are little squeeks every now and then. Other than that, the musicianship, whilst for the most part being stellar, can get a bit sloppy, and the vocals sound like the dude from Budgie on helium (seriously...'on helium' gets overabused as a description of vocals, but here it's really spot on).
But putting all that aside, there's just something about NWOBHM that simply saves it from being even average. You cannot deny that, for example, the opening riff (after the Macbeth intro) is purely epic, and the riff that follows drives manically and forces you to headbang without favour to your neck. And then 'I bid you welcome to heeeeeeeeeeeeell!' refuses to leave your head forever until you drive it out with another album. Keep listening to it, the quality never drops. Dark, fast and epic riffs, one after the other, driving through the tape without mercy. You simply cannot beat the NWOBHM. There's so defeating the cries of 'Deliver us from EVIL!!!'
Speaking nothing of the musicianship! The lead guitar especially here is fantastic! Take first song (well, not the Macbeth intro, the second song I guess) and listen to the first solo, and how it screeches in, and how the rest of the music picks up and speeds off as it does. Too fucking cool.
I would say that this is as good as it gets, but really, this is an example of how poorly something can be produced, yet still rock so hard due to the fact that the NWOBHM was just so awesome.
One among many, but still definately worth owning.