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“…like whips of anger with lightning danger, there runs the quick perspective of the future…”
With first lying of the hands, Hellbastard’s debut didn’t feel like anything but typical thrash fare from the mid/late ‘80s. There’s just no way around it, and while it’s a statement that seems to cringe with disappointment, all that’s needed to consider the odds (and its truth) is halfway decent eyesight, a valid calendar, and some knowledge of underground metal. Of course you can’t know just how typical it is until it follows you home, and the best case scenario is that it isn’t.
The thing is, Hellbastard would probably have a hard time spelling ‘typical’, for apparently the word doesn’t come up often in conversation, at least not any concerning Heading for Internal Darkness. What is thrown around quite a bit more is ‘crust’, a grimy, pessimistic and ornery style of music said to be derived from hardcore, anarcho-punk, and extreme metal. It’s also thought this UK three-piece coined the term with their Ripper Crust demo of ’86, however countrymate Amebix is often credited with this, or at least with concocting the sound itself three years prior with their lp Arise.
As one of the very few things concerning ‘80s metal I can’t seem to care about, I’ll just enjoy whatever this is for whatever it is, which from where I’m hiding is a quite interesting bare-knuckle drag of down-tuned guitar horror, rust-red structures often under questionable control, the loud seclusion of helplessness that haunts abandoned psyche wards, grim inspiration usually found dissolved in the floor cracks of dungeons, and a large skeletal body bloated with layers of thick black gruel that acts as this collection of earsores’ overall premise. Right, where do we sign up? Alas, despite this post-apocalyptic reverie, you shouldn’t feel afraid walking from one end of this thing to the other ‘cos there’s a built-in bridge that feels pretty sturdy under you despite what smells like calamity all around. Under the almost ramshackle surface is a platform of fairly normal metal musicality – solid rhythms and structures of natural traditional sense and thrash breakdown-like temperament - keeping it from premature collapse. And to keep Hellbastard from being confused with Crimson Glory, production values purposely scrape near the tanker bottom, yet are far from what I’d call terrible.
“…lost in the trackless jungle of his pain, clutching the pitiless red earth in vain…”
Mirroring this scabby sound is Scruff’s vocal churl, a bombardment of harshly inhospitable thrash ala later Hexx and early Chakal that’s often sharp with hollered, street-level hardcore barbs and is thinly underscored by still-adolescent death metal bawling. Beats me what else would fit, however my own personal screw-off amusingly superimposes the painful throatsear of John McCarthy (RIP, formerly of Massachusetts quasi-bunglers Post Mortem) over the regular vocals to see what howls and what hurts.
Telling the tracks apart turns out to be a minor chore unless yer sitting there at attention like a dog awaiting a Pupperoni treat, however disc-finishing instrumental “Rise of Crust” and its flying barrage of non-artisan fretboard debris is easy to locate and “Civilized?” is the sole flash of thrash/hardcore-like speed that spears through this lp’s wide leaden curtain. The title cut rallies with a more traditional sense of songwriting brushed over with nicotine tar and sorta echoes Turn Back Trilobite-era Sacrilege, meanwhile “Afrikkan Beggar” proves vigorous to the punch without setting foot in blast beat territory.
Yet what really threw me for a loop appeared most unexpectedly, an avant-garde featurette that’s almost entirely unrelated to a din of disaster such as this, one I like to believe is an ode to Celtic Frost for their early vision of supplemental female vocals which often seeded dreary or tumultuous environs with humane or hopeful atmosphere, if only momentarily. Here “Civilized?”, “Death Camp”, and “The Pylons” are momentarily mystified by a sometimes over-echoed, similarly female-voiced spectre of civility and is a treat that garnered this thing probably five extra points for execution as well as thinking of it in the first place.
Too many bands come to mind while this spins. Some are ones you’ll read about in other reviews of this thing on the net: Amebix, Crass, Slayer, Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, Discharge, Venom, Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Concrete Sox, Deviated Instinct, Axegrinder, Subhumans (the band unwittingly responsible for bringing future members together), etc. – all valid inspiration for Hellbastard in the eyes of the Lord. However, my mind’s on those who came around the same time or after adorned with similar appalling traits: Bolt Thrower, Confessor, early Paradise Lost, Winter, Autopsy, Righteous Pigs, Defecation, Carnivore, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost (more for avant-garde reasons), a rather less serious Post Mortem, and some others having little to do with crust, yet show possible evidence of siphoning topical grease, spilled fuel oil, and some anomalous musical ideas from this grody shit-shower.
Heading for Internal Darkness skirts styles that can be more easily categorized, leaving us with, well, crust, I guess, which to me resembles more weighted and grimily-presented traditional fare with a penchant for eluding most natural progression of rhythm and melody, then dig up some dirt-choked vocals that sound like they’ve actually been dug up, sprinkle in unkind melodrama for flavor and turn it loose to influence the future.
"...so tall with prophecy, dreaming of cities where often clouds shall lean their swan white necks..."
Heavily inspired by Amebix and their crusty punk ambitions, Hellbastard also rose from England loaded with chunky guitar riffs and anarchist political views very much in place. When this album was issued, punk bible Maximum Rock N Roll described it as “Crass meets Metallica”, which is not far off the mark.
The band’s sound consisted mostly of mid-tempo grooves punctuated by occasional clean female vocals matching guitarist & singer Scruff’s guttural snarl. Perhaps because it fell into the typical crust middle ground of not being punk and/or metal enough for each scene’s respective audiences, Hellbastard didn’t receive much adulation in their day. Too bad, because their sound is actually very heavy, very organic, and contains not only fine playing, but a very grass roots vibe. They clearly were making music for themselves and didn’t care if the lads with either mohawks or dreadlocks found it to their liking. Hardcore punk velocity is used sparingly, but effectively here with the band quickly returning to the mid-tempo crush they favored.
Long out of print, but highly desirable, this release was followed by 1990’s Natural Order album, a damn good effort, but the band’s move to a slicker thrash metal style disconcerted those of us who loved their debut (all three of us). The band’s demo work (under the title Ripper Crust) has also been unearthed in recent years, as the commercial aspirations of the modern punk rock set have led those seeking the real deal to scurry back in time to hear bands that mattered. Hellbastard did, and that’s why we’re still talkin’ about ‘em today.