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France's Hell Militia has garnered quite a reputation for being one of the acts to feature the vocals of Meyhna'ch, the driving force behind the legendary Mütiilation. “Jacob's Ladder” is the third full length offering from Hell Militia and their first for Season of Mist Records. Those familiar with Hell Militia's previous works should not be too surprised with anything here as the band builds off their previous works of death influenced black metal, while adding some spacey doom elements here and there.
With “Jacob's Ladder”, the order of the day is a rather mild form of black metal with some interspersed death elements and the aforementioned spacey doom segments. The band mostly sticks to a melodic picking style, similar to later Marduk output (minus the intensity). During these sections the drums are simplistic and slow while selective chords float in the air, followed by short melodic lines. The music does build up into a rather intense deathy black metal style, but these sections are short-lived, and it's right back into the slower paced picking and molasses drumming. A few surprising sections show the guitars with their slow, melodic drone coupled with double bass running and fast cymbal work, but seem to lack some much needed oomph.
The band seems at its best during the faster sections here, such as the middle section of “Jonah”, when the drums are borderline blast beats and the guitars actually have some speed to them. The guitarist definitely shows he can play trem riffs with the best of them, but for whatever reason only plays them a few times during the entire album. The simple fact that the majority of this album plods along while the songs tend to go absolutely nowhere makes this a very difficult listen. I consistently find myself waiting for the speed and intensity to pick up, but it really doesn't, or when it does it's gone before you know it. “The Black Projector” is one of the exceptions that starts off with blasting black death, but even before the song reaches the two minute mark, melodic guitars and samples start up and the intensity is gone.
“Jacob's Ladder” would score below the average mark, if it wasn't for the vocals. If you've listened to Mütiilation before, then you know that Meyhna'ch has laid some of the best black metal vocal tracks known to mankind. His delivery was twisted, sick and ridden with despair and hate. I can't put my finger on it, but his vocals are much different here, maybe more of a throaty growl with some snarling, but different than his early work. It's not really the anguished performance of old, but it does help to take the focus away from the stagnant music. While the vocals do add some distinction to an otherwise stale performance, they aren't quite up to the standard that Meyhna'ch is commonly known for.
The frequent spacey, melodic sections really detract from any momentum that gets built up. Like I said, you spend a whole lot of time waiting for the music to build up into some intense climax, only to have the brakes thrown on. With all the slower sections sounding very similar, everything melds together after a while, especially on repeated listens. The random samples thrown in also detract from the album's pace and don't add much of a dynamic to the mix either and sound extremely out of place, especially the little kid talking about having drug induced religious experiences.
While the music is played well, this just really isn't interesting enough to stand apart from the pack. Meyhna'ch's vocals are good, but not enough to completely save “Jacob's Ladder” from mediocrity. If the band would up the intensity more, this could be a great album and a great band, but the droning, plodding pace of most of the album doesn't have enough to dig into. Slightly above average black metal, with some doom and death influence. Your money could be better spent elsewhere.
Written for The Metal Observer