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Let merlot or cavernet sauvignon wine rest for, say, 10 years and you will have, because of the alcoholic fermentation, an excellent harvest and delicious bottles to enjoy. Well, whatever, metalheads prefer beer, you know, but I'm just saying.
Something like the same happens with Human Remains. Years and years of wait have give nice fruits. Until this year, this is one of the finest albums made during this decade, and though we are just in the second year of ten, I can say that probably, this sentence will not change.
In the early eighties, the progressive sound of "Hell" was out of the way. A total challenge for any record company. When they started to get close, destiny avoided it. So only recently they could make the thing come true: an album.
The demos of the band (get out of the way, pseudo kvlt guys) are great, but this record surpasses everything made before. Maybe, of course, the underground atmosphere is something we all taste and love (in terms of heavy metal culture) in those legendary recordings. But here, with a superlative production, there is nothing we can do about it but to praise what has been done and enjoy it. Nuclear Blast did it, and did it perfectly well.
That's why the roary sounds of NWOBHM that can be found in here, with pumping guitars, clear and profound bass beats and drumming and fireworking singing are filled with an inmortal taste. The intro works perfectly for introducing us into the mystic realms of this hellibilly group of guys. Yeah, they may look freaky and weirdo, why not, but it suits for their attitude. And with the addition of David Bower, the band wins exponentially in imagery and soundscrafting.
I can't get enough by saying that the production in this album is superlative. Everything, from the sound mix, the multilaying instrumentation, the effects added, you name it, it outclasses most of today's stuff. It was like a dormant power waiting to be awake and to take everything valuable and leaving town. So, new guys from new bands, if you want to know how to do it right when mixing your recordings, try to use this as a mirror.
Being that said, let's talk about music. And yes, here we got lots of powerful punches of metal language. A total lesson on its own way. I really believe, after listening to this, that every band needs to work it out, to polish himself and to perfect its own style and sound with many years of practice, touring and underground playing before reaching recording possibilities. So, when they actually reach the moment for putting their songs into electromagnetic signals, they do it with all the might and magic they learnt to use. And when such a legendary kvlt band like Hell reaches it, they do it for the moonshot.
Yes, have you noted it? This thing is NWOBHM. The same bloodline of late 70's Judas Priest, early Iron Maiden, Dio era Rainbow, Saxon, Raven... You name it. It's written everywhere on this disc. The guitar speaks an unique language above an elegant and well orchestrated instrumentation. This instrumentation, of course, includes the eclectic and extravaganza-like shouting of David Bower. So, that can't fail, of course. It works. Listen to "On Earth as it is in Hell" for example. The intro, which takes almost 1:30 minutes (and I'm not talking about the overture) is a mighty glimpse of what was about progressive New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Suddenly, the machine gun fires with Bower singing ala King Diamond, but frenzier and well, not that good, but very close. This song is an example of what we can find in the rest of the album. Lyrically, yes, criticizing about religion, about dogmas, about everything worth criticizing. That's not quite important, as long as it works for the music. And here, fits perfectly. The progressive and accelerated beat goes on and on during the whole of the song, and the storm rages full of anger after the opening movement.
"Plague and Fyre" and "Let Battle Commence" are paradigmatic, as well. The first one has an ancient linage in the band's history. The second one is an evolution of older pieces. In any case, those are pictures of the musicianship thrown in Human Remains, blatant power and rage out of the box. There are, as well, some great epic episodes, with "The Devil's Deadly Weapon", "Macbeth" and "No Martyr's Cage", being the second one my fav amongst them (maybe because I like Shakespeare). And I'll say it again: when you get almost 30 years of evolution before recording, obviously, you will do great if you are talented enough and great compositions shall meet light. The tracks cited above are filled with blasphemous and brute power, it's impossible not to enjoy them.
So, for finishing, this is an album made with a superb production and 30 years of aging. The fermentation process made an outrageous album, ready to be tasted and enjoyed by the most demanding metalhead. The pairing works correctly with a couple of beers and nice metalhead company, preferably leggy, murky and gloomy blondies, though pas de problème pour moi if you are with a nice darky brunette. Human Remains the choice, dude.
Highlights: On Earth as it is in Hell; Plague and Fyre; Macbeth; No Martyr's Cage.
Remarkable: Superb Production.
Originally published at http://suite101.com
In an era where reunions have become the norm and new material emerging after decades long silence is commonplace, Hell is in a rather unusual position. In a way similar to Zak Stevens' Machines of Grace project, Hell is one of those bands that formed in the early 80s but ultimately never saw a full-length release due to record company shenanigans and other various factors. Unfortunately, these factors led to the suicide of guitarist/vocalist Dave Halliday in 1987. Enter former Sabbat guitarist Andy Sneap, one of the most in demand producers in modern metal as well as one of this band's most vocal fans since their heyday. Now taking up the guitar again and playing the role of ascended fanboy alongside his longtime heroes, the resulting reunion/debut album pulled together from once obscure demos is an achievement with a story that makes his recent collaboration with Accept seem like mere child's play in comparison!
While many listeners are often quick to associate Hell with the NWOBHM movement due to the time and location they were first active, they have an incredibly unique style that is hard to associate with just one sub-genre. The fast tempos found on tracks such as "Plague and Fyre" often show traces of thrash and power metal while the overall theatrical atmosphere probably would've been a major influence on the second wave of black metal if the band had gotten just a little bigger back in the day. The work of Mercyful Fate serves as a good frame of reference for what this album is similar to though it also becomes rather obvious where the previously mentioned Sabbat and Skyclad got a good portion of their influence from...
And as someone who was only familiar with this group on a casual basis and had never listened to the original demos, it is incredibly surprising to see just how well the music and songwriting on here has held up over time. Granted the production and some of the modern recording techniques may have something to do with that, but the strength of these songs themselves shows that this band may have been just a little ahead of their time...
But the album's most surprising attribute is new vocalist David "Beckford" Bower, the brother of guitarist/keyboard Kev Bower, who has been tasked with replacing Halliday. Perhaps due to his background as an actor, Bower puts on a distinctly convincing performance and is easily the most awesomely cheesy singer that has ever graced since the metal scene since King Diamond. The other members do put on great performances with the guitars and keyboards standing out on occasion, but it is hard to pay attention to the whole package when this guy is doing such a commendable job chewing the scenery!
The songwriting itself is also worth noting as most of the tracks on here seem to go against faster paced numbers and a series of atmospheric epics that go between eight and ten minutes in length. The one exception seems to be the opening "Overture: Themes From Deathsquad," which opens the album on bombarding symphonic flourishes and averts the overture filler rule in every way possible. The fast tracks in particular provide a great deal of satisfaction with their energy and particularly memorable hooks. "On Earth As It Is In Hell" and "The Quest" are noteworthy songs due to the former's commanding transitions and the latter being an upbeat, driving anthem. But there is no doubt "Plague And Fyre" is the best song on the album and may be the happiest song ever written about the Bubonic Plague...
Of course, the longer songs are also well written and contain memorable moments of their own. The opening of "Blasphemy And The Master" allows a lot of David's acting skills to shine, "The Devil's Deadly Weapon" features some particularly nice touches of keyboard, and the closing "No Martyr's Cage" oddly isn't too different from what Candlemass is doing nowadays in some spots.
The album also stands out for the extensive sampling and spoken segments that used to bookend each track. While they generally help to give the album an overall unified structure, there are some points where they may go on for a little too long. The otherwise perfect "Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us" and the structurally interesting but rather cheesy "Macbeth" are two tracks that stand out in this regard. Speaking of cheesiness, this is definitely not an album to look into if you're a listener that can't take a bit of ridiculousness with their music. It may not be campy in the same way that a good portion of their peers were back in the day or as satirical as the postmodern projects of today, but it is definitely a lot of fun to listen to if you don't take it too seriously.
So is it cheating when one of the most intriguing albums in the modern day is a re-recorded collection of songs that are nearly thirty years old? Because this album may have its share of flaws and perhaps a little too over the top for some, but it is already a highlight of 2011 and may end up being a top album by the year's end. It may end up having appeal to a very specialized demographic, but its strength and the influence that it should've had still make it worth recommending for metal fans of all backgrounds. Thrash fans should enjoy the speed, power metal listeners should enjoy the hooks, and other metal enthusiasts should find a kindred spirit in its morbid atmosphere. Prepare yourself for some hammy satanic fun!
On Earth As It Is In Hell
Plague And Fyre
Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us
No Martyr’s Cage
The story behind UK NWOBHM kind-of/would-be/now-finally-are legends Hell is an interesting one. They formed in 1982, recorded a handful of demos and a single, and then disbanded in 1987 after their label went under. The band faded into obscurity, followed with the suicide of guitarist Halliday.
Their almost-legend grew because Halliday taught Sabbat's Andy Sneap how to play. (That's the cruddy British Sabbat, of course, not the awesome Japanese Sabbat.) Eventually, Sneap got the band back together, more than 20 years after their collapse, taking on Halliday's role in the band. After Sabbat vocalist Martin Walkyier left (thankfully) they recruited David Bower, brother of guitarist/keyboardist Kev, to take the mic.
Their story is enough by itself to get people interested, but the music is strong enough to stand on its own merit. Most of the songs were written during the band's original tenure, so rather than being old school it's just plain old. Is it anything you haven't heard already? No, it's NWOBHM as usual, but it's very catchy. The highlight is "On Earth as It Is in Hell". The epic, synth-laden "The Devil's Deadly Weapon" and cheesy "The Quest" are also worthy of note. While I'm not often a fan of modern production (at least these days), it serves this release well.
However, they should have cut it off after "The Quest". The most celebrated release of the NWOBHM, The Number of the Beast, is only 40 minutes. Human Remains is over an hour. "Macbeth" is overblown, and "Save Us from Those Who Would Save Us" is dull, making up the weakest links on the record. Closer "No Martyr's Cage" doesn't do enough to justify its 9 minute run on a record that would be (without these three tracks) a satisfying 45 minutes of pure heavy metal.
The Verdict: This record is interesting based on its history as well as its quality, but drags out near the end. The first 8 tracks are definitely worth your money.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
There has been a lot of talk about this album, and I'm sure we all know by now that it was a long time coming. I won't delve into an overindulgent history lesson, as that information is readily available across the web. So, with new found vigor and passion Hell at long last managed to get a full-length out, and by the gods does it scorch.
Human Remains is a stunning releasing, with a solid foot in the past and the other in the present. The band straddles a NWOBHM/power metal sound whilst flirting with doom and traditional heavy metal throughout. The production is modern, which could scare away those in search of a throwback band, however I feel the album really benefits from the crystal clear sound. The band sound on fire throughout, with Andy Sneap and Kev Bower spewing forth devilish leads and fist-pumping riffs, and I have to give special mention to vocalist David Bower. I've had the pleasure of catching these guys live, and I must say that David Bower is one of the finest frontmen I've witnessed in years. I know some people aren't sold on his vocals but I love his Jon Oliva meets Brian Connolly style.
Each track on the album flows into each other, and David Bower's theatrical style of vocals gives the album a story/play feel which is really cool. Every track smokes, but special mention would go to "Blasphemy and the Master" which has some really heavy moments, and as cliché as it might be I can't help but love the whole "Satan I bow to the devil" part. The opening attack of "On Earth As It Is In Hell" and "Plague And Fyre" is simply flawless, "The Quest" is a great live number and a quality headbanger and the same can be said about "Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us". But really the whole thing is bloody great.
All in all, this is one of 2011's must hear albums. Sure to make a load of best-of lists, and rightfully so. These guys have the potential to be a fucking leviathan in a sea of metal bands, and I really hope we hear more. As far as I'm concerned, Human Remains is an essential listen for any metal fan. Buy this now, and if given the chance, catch them live.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
Do you ever get that 'what if' feeling? Do you ever think what would happen if something or someone would do something differently? Look no further because HELL is 'the' example of that. Try to imagine what would happen if they would get a record deal in 1983, gave these awesome demos a proper, quality release, and toured Europe. Sadly, we don't live in a perfect and happy world so this never happened.
I would like to say that I purchased this album about a week after the release date, and just until now am I able to put together the words, sentences, and paragraphs that would describe this piece of art. Now before I actually start reviewing, I will say that there are NO bad songs on this album. There are no fillers, these songs are all killer. From "Themes From Deathsquad", to "No Martyr's Cage", this album does not disappoint in any way. I am not exaggerating this in any way, and I know this sounds like massive fan boy-ism but there is just no other way to say this except that all the songs are master pieces. The overall feeling that you get when listening to these is just unexplainable. It's just like with Dr. Pepper, you can't really describe the taste.
"Dunsinane's battle was over and won
Almost before bold Macbeth was undone
Macduff tolled the knell of Macbeth's coming doom
When he was untimely ripped from the womb
Charged with a task long before he was born
Macduff was the one not of woman born"
It's like reading Macbeth all over again.
The amazing riffs that are performed by Kev Bower and Mr. Sneap truly shine and make you want to listen to them all day. Tony Speakman plays the bass like a true gentleman. I never thought that in the right hands, a pick could produce such clear, intense, and masterful bass lines. And did Tim Bowler ever age? He plays the drums better then even the most famous metal drummers out there (hint; Napster.) As for the vocals, David Bower has got to be one of the best vocalist out there. High screams, growls, and devilish sounds, he can do all of those. I feel like I am being read a story by a professional speaker.
I was also one of the lucky bastards to get the double disc release, with the second CD containing the original demos. Now I have a theory on why this band didn't get a record deal back in the day. The world was not prepared for that kind of metal yet. Power metal bands have proven that it's okay to have synths in metal, but HELL has proven that synths are metal! And If you don't believe me, please go listen to the demo of "The Devil's Deadly Weapon", and prepare to be proven wrong.
I also want to say that Dave G. Halliday was a musical genius. It is really sad and heart breaking to have something that you have worked for years, suddenly go down the drain because of how unfair society is. I don't blame him for doing what he did, It must have been really hard, and all I will say is R.I.P. Dave G. Halliday.
I will sum this whole thing up by saying that you will not be disappointed with this album at all. Buy it, listen to it, cherish it, and be happy that you made one of the best purchases ever.
It has been a long time until this record has been finally able to come out, but it has been close enough to introduce this band to the world. Strangely, they couldn't have chosen a better time to release it. The NWOBHM spirit has raised a lot in the late 2000's, and it has been present on the music of many new bands such as Enforcer, Steelwing, Cauldron and other ones. So it's a perfect time for a band like Hell to be received. Besides, the inclusion of a metal figure as popular as Andy Sneap is always a powerful charm to metal listeners.
Nevertheless, this album is so damn good that the recognition of this new generation of die-hard metalheads is a little price. If this album had come out in the 80's, it would have been probably one the basic pillars of the British heavy metal scene, close to albums like Court in the act from Satan or Rock you to hell from Grim Reaper. All the songs present on this record belongs to that time, and presumably they were going to be released in an album by Mausoleum Records before it crashed.
Talking about the music, there’s nothing but a bunch of great NWOBHM songs. The production and sound of the album are typically 00’s; so it’s like some British band from the 80’s had been re-recording their own songs for a new album or a compilation. The songs are quite varied. Some of them are more typical of this genre and other ones are more sophisticated, as it happens to be the case of the long ones, especially Blasphemy and the Master. I would highlight some songs, like Plague and Fyre and Let Battle Commence, but I couldn't really say that any song is below the average level. A few songs may make somebody to get bored, but I feel is the fault more of the additional sounds used like intros or outros than for the song itself. This is especially notable in No Martyr's Cage, in which the song would have been better if the main riff started at 0:30 instead of 3:00. Even so, I encourage every listener to don't give up with these songs; the more you listen to them, the more you like it!
There is also a need of talking about the theatrical side of this album. The combination of lyrics and vocal melodies can translate you to any situations described in the record. David Bower really makes worth all the passages between songs. Maybe without him many of those would have been considered senseless and damaging for the album, which, by the other hand, don't need them for making it great.
The most interesting aspect of metal bands that I’ve come to notice is the amount of inner hype and excitement that builds over even the most cult and underground releases. Sometimes a band will break up, but then the hype will pull them back in, because the metal scene loves its underground darlings. That’s just so cool to me – how these guys can play this incredibly nuanced, underground, out-there form of music, no commercial appeal whatsoever, and devote their lives to it, completely throwing themselves into the creative process. But hence, the tragedy! Sometimes the music industry can be cruel. People won’t understand, outside of the small cult following, and the process becomes long, tired and hard, and the band might even just break up altogether. That’s what happened to Hell, and to add insult to injury, vocalist David Halliday tragically killed himself shortly after their initial 1986 break-up, solidifying their place as a footnote in metal’s history. Right?
No, as there was a light at the end of the tunnel after all – Andy Sneap, heavily influenced by the band in his old band Sabbat, worked with the remaining members to bring them back (along with new vocalist David Bower, brother of guitarist Kev), and thus we finally have the dawn of Human Remains. I’m reviewing the double-disc edition here, which means I have the new album and the old compiled demos, titled 1982-1986, with Halliday’s voice still intact on them.
Human Remains is just a monstrous frigging album, with 66 minutes of relentless, supercharged metal. The production is excellent – big, clean and heavy as an anvil – and the performances are all sonically over the top. Everything about it feels big. Every riff is played with gusto and charisma, and David Bower’s vocals are a flexible, screaming metallic howl. This is a work with a lot of scope and ambition to it, as every song connects to one another to form a sort of continuous stream-of-thought flow to the work. Each song segues into the next one, and a lot of the time, it adds a real theatrical element to the proceedings that makes this feel like a huge Vaudevillian theater show, with each song being a new act. I just love that about this album. Every song brings something new and powerful to the mix, and David Bower, being a TV actor himself, has a lot of presence – he screams, he sings, he howls and he growls, and the final product is one of undeniable grandeur. The little theatric introductions to some songs – the three witches’ dialogue on “Macbeth,” the news reports on “Save Us…” and the intonations on “Blasphemy and the Master” – just further enhance this. At times this is more than just another metal album, and it becomes a sort of stage show, and listening to it all in one sitting is just amazing.
As for the individual songs, well, all of them stand out in different ways. “On Earth As It Is In Hell” is a kinetic, riff-rocking track with odd vocal rhythms that still remain hooky – a real powerhouse of an opener. “Plague & Fyre” storms through the gates and just annihilates with its big shout-along chorus and diabolical lyrical themes about the Black Plague. Epics like “Blasphemy and the Master” and the epochal “The Devil’s Deadly Weapon” are just insane, out-of-this-world clinics of songwriting, as they rule with hard, heavy, slamming riffage, but are constructed like moving, orchestral narrative epics. These songs are the real meat and potatoes of the album, being right in the middle and packed with all the head-stomping riffs – I haven’t headbanged this hard in AGES! – and hooky vocal lines you could ask for in a metal album along with a heightened sense of epic scope, which really elevates them to the next level. The lyrics all tell horror stories of some kind, all of the cheesy Hammer Horror-style. They’re very eloquent and well done, and some might find them indulgent, but I think they’re great fun to read along with, heightening the stage-show feel of the music I mentioned before.
“Macbeth” is another epic, with some Maiden-styled guitar runs running energetically alongside a subtly hook-filled verse that pretty much just tells the story of Macbeth. This is a kick-ass song, and probably the most intricate and subtle on here – it took a while to grow on me, but when it did…DAMN, what a powerhouse of a tune! Other songs are shorter and more pugilistic, like the excellent barrage of speed “Let Battle Commence,” which has a truly Earth-shattering moment at its climax, the fun NWOBHM-style gallop “The Quest” and the careening chaos of “Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us.” The album closes out with the doomy 9-minute crush of “No Martyr’s Cage,” which is a bit startling, admittedly, as its morbid, subdued tone is an entirely different feel and atmosphere than the rest of the album’s more upbeat, campy one, which, after many listens, does tend to throw me off. It’s a lot more serious, thematically, than the rest of the album is – the rest of the album is the band having fun, putting on a big stage show with hellish lights and big fireworks, but this song is more of a reflective look at the band’s own inner torment, which is a weird contrast. But on its own it’s a very good song, with dark lyrics and some truly monolithic riffage. The climax has perhaps the album’s heaviest moment of all, and Bower’s voice is a tortured, deeply-intoned moan. This might be the only song I like better in the demo format, though.
1982-1986, the demos, are like a metallic history lesson, a true example of 80s innovation. How magical it must have been to hear this stuff back then…well, if you were the type of weirdo who actually found it fascinating. That’s the best type of weirdo, though, as this stuff is just great. It pales in comparison to the album it accompanies, but that’s because it’s a bunch of demos, and I don’t think me saying that really does anything to sully the name of the late, great Halliday. Human Remains is the album he would have wanted to hear, or at least as close to it as the band could make without him, and these demos are just the roots of what would eventually come to fruition.
That said, this is still good music. The unpolished feel makes it seem all the more wild and unpredictable, and the riffing is absolutely top notch. The vocals of Dave Halliday are pretty different from Bower’s vocals on the re-done stuff. He has a very thin, delicate lilt to him, and it adds a humorously cheesy contrast to lines like “Satan! I bow to the devil / Satan! I crawl to the devil!” When you hear this guy’s thin, melodic, happy-sounding voice sing those lines…it’s just hilarious. But in a good way, because you can tell he’s really into it, and the enthusiasm is just awesome to hear. Every time I hear Halliday’s voice, I like him better, and it’s a damn shame he had to die so young. He just has a lot of earnest charisma to him, and added a very interesting touch to this music.
The other thing that’s different from the new stuff is the keyboards, which are really 80s sounding – and this surprisingly really, really works. “Deathsquad,” “On Earth As It Is In Hell” and “Macbeth” all have these really great 80s synthesizers behind the quirky riffing that just sounds so strange that it becomes awesome. And “The Devil’s Deadly Weapon” has an absolutely glorious keyboard intro that is just too out-there for me to even try to describe it in words. Rest assured, it’s like nothing you have ever heard in your life.
Mostly these songs aren’t better or worse than their album counterparts – they’re just different, and the demo-level production and different recording takes (some are live tracks, some are recordings from ’82 and some from ’86) are the only thing that really holds the demos back from being quite as glorious as the actual album. They’re a relic of their time period, and an interesting look into a very niche, underground style of music from that time period. The demos also serve as an interesting comparison point, and as such, this double-disc edition is well worth the purchase for anyone who loves heavy metal or NWOBHM in the least.
So that’s the double-disc package in full. What a great piece of metal. This will get a lot of backlash from Nuclear Blast kiddies who like their metal super-serious and people who just resent super-popular hype bandwagons, and that’s a shame, because really this is a work of metal which does not deserve such heated controversy. It’s from a time when metal was less rigidly structured and more experimental, and the fact that it’s being released now, with modern production values, makes this all the more fascinating. For all the albums you ever heard described as ‘a time machine back to the 80s,’ well, this is the closest thing you’re ever going to get to that until a real life Doc Brown invents a real life time-traveling DeLorean. I think the first verse of “Let Battle Commence” sums up the experience of this album quite well:
Hello! Good evening!
Welcome to the show!
There’s some information
That we think you should know
We’re intent on inciting you
Hellbent on exciting you
Let the battle commence
It’s a full scale attack
There is no holding back
Over the top we go!
Yeah, that about does it. Human Remains is a great album because it’s supercharged with great riffs, has stunning and energetic performances from everyone involved and it just feels so larger-than-life, so epic and big. When I hear this album, I feel like I’m listening to a big Vaudeville show, except put on by a metal band. This isn’t quite perfect, but that’s just nitpicking and I really love this. Here’s to hoping for many more prosperous years of Hell music now that the band has finally come into its own. Truly amazing work.
When looking for something fresh and new sounding, the last place that people would expect to find it is around 30 years ago. But like with all truly great treasures, the most unlikely of places is where the real wealth tends to be stashed. Bouncing off of a rekindled interest in the NWOBHM that seems to all but fully coincide with the recent thrash revival craze, Hell has hit 2011 like a bat out of itself with a modernized celebration of what could have been a formidable competitor to those who claimed this band’s namesake as their domain (Satan and Demon). There’s no desire for compromise, no intention of modernizing anything apart from production values; this is metal at its most metal, freely moving from one point to the next with song structures flirting with progressive territory, and a campy sense of theatrics that rivals Mercyful Fate and Sabbat (the latter citing this band as a big influence).
“Human Remains” would have been a dangerous album circa 1982 when much of it was put together in rough demo forms, even if when considering the close proximity to “Melissa”, “Show No Mercy” and “Court In The Act”. The outlandishly dramatic vocal display out of David Bower alone is enough to put it in its own class, let alone all of the busy riffs that fly in with the 4 winds and scramble up the listeners expectations like a wicked witch’s brew. Compared to the rigid structural tendencies of the style’s mainstays like Iron Maiden and more readily recognized influential acts like Diamond Head, this music was ahead of its time, and was probably the chief reason why a good number of labels wouldn’t touch them. But today is a different ballgame, and those seeking a return to the once forward looking but now orthodox take on playing it loud and proud don’t find an anathema in a traditional band mixing it up a bit.
Upon hearing the creepy symphonic overture that kicks this thing off, all the way to the roaring conclusion, one can’t help but see the beginnings of what dominates mainline black metal acts today. While the riff work of catchy excursions into dark territory such as “On Earth As It Is In Hell”, “Let Battle Commence”, and “Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us” has a familiar flavor for anyone who followed the early beginnings of pre-thrash metallic mayhem, the musical interludes and samples all but rival the theatrics of Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir. Indeed, the reinterpretations of Dave G. Halliday’s expressive vocalizations done by Bower could merit some comparisons to a number of popular extreme bands today, as well as to some bands closer to their original era such as Crimson Glory and King Diamond. “Macbeth” takes it a step further and actually ventures into story on tape mode, complete with voice renderings of the 3 weird sisters.
This is one of those albums that in spite of being fairly old school in orientation (an inevitable outcome given the time period that the songs were constructed), is a genre defying gem worthy of consumption by just about everyone. There’s probably a small minority of modern day, self-conscious types who might find this too campy and archaic to be worthy of being taken seriously, though one would also have to question how many times Cryptopsy and Cannibal Corpse can be lyrically plagiarized before the same can be said about their preferred style. But anyone who can say that the 80s was a good era for music, barring the abominations going on in more mainstream circles, will find a winner here that provides a more intricate take on an time that Dream Evil and Hammerfall have been trying to revisit for about a decade now.
The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was littered with sob stories, of course, but Hell’s was one of the few that was truly tragic. Inept management (Diamond Head), dodgy contracts (Cloven Hoof), lack of interest from record labels and the press (Angel Witch) and sudden bouts of songwriting insanity (Diamond Head again) brought many a promising young band to their knees by the end of the once-illustrious musical movement.
Hell suffered something along the lines of the Angel Witch problem, and after 5 years of relentless, expensive hard work they were left in 1986 (the last drab of ash on the end of the NWOBHM cigarette) with nothing to show for themselves but a handful of poorly recorded demos, 7-inches and rehearsal tapes, along with a collapsed record deal with a diddy Belgian label. All this proved too much for the band to continue together, and for vocalist Dave Halliday to even continue at all, eventually taking his own life in early 1987.
But then a few years ago came rumblings of a comeback so unlikely that it would be laughed out of Hollywood. The good fortune of counting a world-renowned producer as your biggest ever fan is something most retired bands could only dream of – not only has Andy Sneap recorded the CD to crisp, modern perfection, but he has also probably fulfilled something close to a lifelong dream by picking up the guitar in place of Halliday. On top of that, after a meticulous self-financed recording process, a band that didn’t exist for close to 20 years has now found themselves tied to no less than Nuclear Blast - now that really is ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff.
I suppose I’d better curtail the essay at this point and get along with the, er, reviewing the music part of this review. The thing about Hell, from what I’ve been able to glean from the mp3 rips of nth generation copies of the old demos that had until now been their only legacy is that they really were something quite special. At times very much your typical sprightly NWOBHM band, and at others something else entirely – something much darker and more complex, with a massive theatrical and occult flair that often sees comparisons drawn with Mercyful Fate.
Halliday was naturally the focal point of the band and the very epitome of a larger-than-life, eccentric frontman, his quavering, melodramatic vocals an utterly essential one-off. Replacing such an, well, irreplaceable, singer was the main sticking point for this proposed re-tooling of the band, but after a brief period of working with Sneap’s Sabbat mate Martin Walkyier, Hell stumbled apparently by accident onto guitarist Kev Bower’s younger brother Dave, and the results really are far beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. At times it is almost frightening how similar he sounds to Halliday, matching all his mad lilts and croons to perfection, but at the same time he possesses a ferocious edge to his vocals (that oddly actually is reminiscent of a certain Mr Walkyier) that the original singer wasn’t even close to. In fact, in the spirit of blasphemy that I’m sure the band would have to approve of, I’d even dare to say that he is an improvement over the original, and that is high praise indeed.
Ditching the well-known veteran for a total unknown is also a commendable bit of resistance to stunt casting, and shows that ‘Human remains’ truly is a labour of love (how keen do you think Blast would have been to add “Feat. Martin Walkyier (Sabbat, ex-Skyclad)!” to the promo sticker on the case?) for all concerned.
Similarly, while there may have been some faint anxiety about Sneap overly-modernising the bands distinctly 80s-rooted sound, these concerns too have been thoroughly dispelled and he does the same masterful job here as he did with Accept on ‘Blood of the nations’, completely updating the band’s sonic quality while at the same time sacrificing none of their raw edge.
In fact it is at times as puzzling as it is joyous to hear such archetypal NWOBHM riffs as those that see the CD explode into life with the staggeringly brilliant “On earth as it is in Hell” through the medium of such audio perfection. The keyboards that were an increasingly huge part of Hell’s sound as their career wore on have also benefited hugely from the advance in recording technology - I love the cheesy synth tones on the original take of “The Devil’s deadly weapon” as much as the next stuffy elitist, but there’s simply no arguing with the classy sound the song is layered with now.
The lengths gone to reach atmospheric perfection in this regard are greatly commendable too, and tie all of ‘Human remains’ together in a perfect dark cloak. The bagpipe intro to “Macbeth”, followed by a truly ridiculous recitation of the opening lines from Shakespeare’s tragedy (remarkably salvaged from an old demo tape and actually featuring Halliday’s voice on the finished product) is something that really has to be heard to be believed, and it is an essential part of a brilliant song.
With a large catalogue of songs to choose from, Bower and Sneap have combed carefully through them and compiled a batch that not only represent all aspects of Hell’s sound, but also flow from song to song with enough variety that ‘Human remains’ very much feels like a proper CD in its own right rather than a patched-up best of.
Epics like “Blasphemy and the master” and “The Devil’s deadly weapon” show Hell at their most dramatic and complex, while the upbeat power metal of “The quest” and the infectious, galloping fan-favourite “Save us from those who would save us” show a different side of the coin altogether. It’s also easy to forget just how old some of these songs are and how crazily advanced they were for the time – “Plague and fire” in particular, dating as far back as 1982 is a work of unbelievable pace and intensity, and the younger Bower really thrives in his battle with Halliday’s complex vocal patterns.
If I had to grumble, it would maybe be that there are a couple of Hell classics missing from the tracklist, including one of my personal favourites in “Land of the living dead”, but on the whole ‘Human remains’ is honestly better than anyone could have hoped for. Even if they record nothing more after this, it is a headstone any band could be proud of, and it almost brings a tear to the eye to see a tragic underdog story like this finally attain some measure of a happy ending.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
I can first remember encountering Hell through a late 80s interview with members of the British speed/thrash legends Sabbat, in which they cited the obscure NWOBHM act as a major influence in both their stage theatrics and Martin Walkyier's charismatic approach to vocals. Some years later I was able to hear them, mildly impressed by the wanton wailing of Dave Halliday and the campy, occult lyrical aesthetics. How sweet and ironic then, that nearly 30 years after the unknowns were releasing demos, they would rebound with a new leash on life, none other than Andy Sneap himself (who was taught the guitar by the late Halliday) joining the prodigious resurrection and helping upgrade them into a modern context and contender!
Of course, with Halliday having passed away decades ago, it would prove a tall order to fill his capable shoes. Originally the plan was for Walkyier to join, and so he did for several years. This might have proven a wicked and fruitful union, even though Martin did not have the obvious range to tout as Dave. In the end, they acquired Dave Bower, a British actor, sibling to guitarist Kev Bower, and what a damned find he is! You see, it is Bower that makes or breaks Human Remains, the first studio album in the band's career. With the shrieking, quivering capacity of Warrell Dane in his prime, the savage snear of a Jon Oliva, and just about any capability within those two climes, Bower is one part air raid siren, one part Faustian caricature, and three parts metal to the bone. You don't hear a 'comeback' like this every day, especially when there's really not that much to 'comeback' from aside from a wisp-like, evasive underground legend. Against all odds, Hell has done so.
Now, there has been all manner of hype surrounding this album since the signing to Nuclear Blast and the sample/video that has been floating about, exposure largely to an entirely new audience who never had a chance to experience the band. It would be an exaggeration to claim that Human Remains is some messianic monolith lain dormant for three decades. It's not THE BEZTEST ALBUM EVAR. It's not perfection by any means. However, it is damned good fun, and you simply do not experience such personality from your garden variety bands performing in the traditional and power genres. In fact, there's a damn dearth of quality music in these fields of late, and Hell is ripe to join a boot the come lately, fledgling retro-metalians and severely lagging power metal bigwigs straight in the arse.
It's best not to think of this as a 'new album', since the material is reworked from the band's 1982 demos and 1983 single ("Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us"). It's slathered in the same pseudo-Satanic ridicule, featuring lots of intros and interludes which King Diamond himself would be hard-pressed to out-cheese. But once you dig past the pomp and romp, you're left with the skeleton of steady quality. The modern glint of the album's production doesn't interfere with the nostalgia of the original recordings, and though Halliday might have been better at 'selling' the material, Bower is simply a far more entertaining front man. Humans Remains ranges from full-on adrenaline pumping epics like "On Earth as it is in Hell", "Let Battle Commence" and "The Quest" to more structurally diverse tracts like "The Devil's Deadly Weapon" or the finale "No Martyr's Cage", meeting the audience half-way with heavy rockers "Blasphemy and the Master" and "The Oppressors".
The band also brooks no hesitation in retaining the sheer 80s flair of tracks like "Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us", scintillating keyboard cheese intro morphed into a thrust of venom; but the incredibly polished production keeps even this fluent with the more modern sounds of a Kamelot, Evergrey, or Symphony X. I do feel like there is often an excess of silliness to be found, like the intro to "MacBeth", or that the Sneap/Bower dual melodies and the vocals too easily trump the rhythm guitar backbone in the majority of the material, but these are in no way critical flaws that parsed my enjoyment of the record, not difficult to ignore in lieu of the variety of compositions. And the lyrics! Clever, semantic, jocular: certainly an influence upon Walkyier in both Sabbat and Skyclad. Most of them, anyway (not "The Quest"). Truly, there is something here for just about everyone who deigns to label him/herself 'metalhead', whether you're in it for the twisted irony, sinister vibes or just a flat out consumption of authentic energy. Welcome to Hell. Turns out to be a pretty lively place.
I've been listening to NWOBHM now for a good few years. I'd like to think of myself as somewhat knowledgeable on the genre of music (even if it was 15 years before my time). I've always liked HELL since listening to their ‘Save Us from those Who will Save Us' single, and listening to crackly 8th-generation demo tapes that never showed their true potential, I always believed they were well ahead of their time. Now if you’re reading this you probably already know the story of this album so I won’t go into that, and all I have to say is that potential has undoubtedly been released and then some.
What we have here is a total labour of love. Every riff, lyric, sound effect and solo has been crafted with utmost dedication. You just don’t get albums like this and is a fitting tribute to Dave Halliday. From the ‘Deathsquad’ intro to my personal favourite ‘Devil’s Deadly Weapon’ we have a demonic slice of metal that encompasses pretty much every sub-genre this side of black metal (and even then, HELL are credited as a driving force of the devil-bothering genre), from the power metal of ‘The Quest’ to the doom-laden ‘No Martyrs Cage', they really do have a wide range to fit all metal fans’ tastes coupled with legendary Andy Sneap’s flawless production, you get a modern, yet familiar record.
Purists may scoff at such a slick record, but with the particular pack I bought you get a bonus cd of the original demos and recordings from back in the 80’s and I have to say I’m glad I ordered this particular version of the album because those 8th-generation tapes that everyone and their dad has on MP3 are NOTHING compared to their master-taped glory here! If anything, if this album was released back in the 80s with these recordings, I still think it would've been a good album. I really, really hope HELL release all their demos with this quality in the future.
All in all, this has got to be one of the best metal albums of the year and I am looking forward to the bright future HELL has in store for them, may their long-awaited reign continue!