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I can't say it enough times: black metal is now at such a peak of over saturation that newer bands will only stand out by doing something original with their material, or by simply besting everything in a particular niche within the greater genre. Too often do I hear promos and demos from bands that do a fair enough job of creating the elusive, grim atmosphere with hostile blasting and dank, mid paced rhythms that we've come to know so well, but nothing exemplary. Its amazing to me at times that there still exists such a widespread support base for the style, since you would think so many would by now have moved on or moved over...
Hell Militia's Last Station on the Road to Death is the followup to their 2005 debut Canonisation of the Foul Spirit, which had a pretty excellent title and cover, yet offered little more than the bare minimum you expect when you spin a black metal record: dark, gruesome tones but little to no interesting procession of notes and chords. On the spectrum of darkness, they fall quite far to the right, churning out a pure and traditional sequence that draws from the Norse classics of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Bathory and Burzum, but ends up reminding one of the orthodox Swedish bands like Ondskapt. To their credit, they are fully capable of mixing and producing a dense mesh of hostility that never quite feels comfortable or safe in the slightest, and the members have a wealth of experience in other French acts like Vorkreist, Merrimack, Gestapo 666, Arkhon Infaustus, Antaeus, and so forth.
Unfortunately, this band is simply not as interesting as most of those, despite the tragedy and terror they can summon through their carefully measured tones alone. The events of Last Station on the Road to Death begin to unfold with some degree of promise, but they quickly fade out to dull song structures and note selections that do not completely deliver on the band's excellent engineering. "Always the Same" is an intro piece with drug addiction samples, and "Born Without Light" is a surge of traditional black metal with some hellish, whaling sounds deep in the background. Yet the ambiance the band creates to layer their sound very often seems to highlight the bankruptcy of the riffing, and we're offered songs that sound delicious in a sonic context, but never drive into the memory, harry or haunt beyond the direct listening. The band are either blasting through a thick bass tone and blasted punishment ("Et Inferno Ego") or plucking through eerie but familiar, ringing strings ("The Ultimate Deception") or slowly broiling, long winded misanthropy ("The Pig That Became a God") which is in dire need of a chopping to focus in on its stronger riffs.
Blasphemy and darkness abound in Hell Militia's explorations of themes, occasionally outside of simply Satan, but without better tunes to carry these messages, they are bound to plummet into the realm of the obscure and too soon forgotten. The band can clearly carve out an atmosphere and restrain themselves from impulsive, indulgent composition, but there is just too little to sate the curiosity of one who has heard the style very often. The cover of infamous punk icon GG Allin's "Shoot Knife Strangle Beat & Crucify" might come as unexpected; lyrically it fits directly in with what the band are expressing, and its a fairly welcome surprise that stands out among the original compositions. The total content of Last Station on the Road to Death is simply not compelling enough to recommend among a crowded field of so many other black metal releases, but if you're a fan of the grimmer field of French black metal that includes Merrimack but not experimental acts like Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, you could look to Hell Militia as a band that have a better grasp of atmosphere than many, even if they don't write good enough guitar parts to matter in the end.
I'm not sure exactly what it is but with every passing black metal album I hear being spat out from the French underground the more developed in my mind is a particular 'sound' being defined by the scene, very different from the more recognisable Swedish and Norwegian BM noises. So too does my respect for a 'scene' that with every release manages to maintain an extraordinarily high level of depravity throughout numerous bands, as Hell Militia have royally achieved here on their second album, "Last Station on the Road to Death".
Rather than relying on the feelings and images of nature and paganism, Hell Militia's aura is that of urban decay and depravation wrapped in a cloud of drug abuse, with the end result being black metal of a discordant and relentlessly bleak nature. Clear in production, the trundling speed, pained screams and leading guitar lines in "Et Inferno Ego" and the album's closing title track ring home with a sense of foreboding better than your average 1000mph Dark Funeral-influenced album is ever likely to do. Though numerous listens have helped, variation between songs is not necessarily easy to come by across the 47 minutes here, even with a sound recalling the progression leanings of Secrets of the Moon, as the feeling of having heard it before grows steadily throughout in the same deeply unsettling manner. It is however in the last song where the drama reaches it's climax as the slow-burning title-track comes to life where Hell Militia's sense of satisfaction is borne out through the most vigorous moments to be found, not least in the sickening screams of Meyhnach, a man who doesn't sound like the kind you'd wish your daughters to meet, even on his good days.
Aside from a cover of GG Allin's "Shoot Knife Strangle Beat & Crucify") in the latter stages of the album, where the original punky vibe is kept honourably intact even at the expense of breaking the flow of the album, Hell Militia's assault is highly consistent across "Last Station..." with no real let-down in the viciousness of their message. All I'm left to say is, if, like me, the forest-influenced BM of Norway feels just a bit too rural in your grey concrete metropolis, Hell Militia offer the urban alternative with a record of stark disgust. You'd never have thought if possible for such a band from the so-called 'city of love'.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net