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No More Tickets for this Speed/Thrash Shredfest - 100%

bayern, January 16th, 2017

There are albums that sweep you from the get-go and carry you safely all the way to the gory… sorry, glory end. You wouldn’t expect this to be done by an act named Hellfire, of course. You wouldn’t trust artists “hiding” under such an infernal moniker to take you anywhere but to the deepest pits of… well, hell. In this particular case you have to take my word for it: we have five “angels” (definitely not “demons”) from Poland who decided to make the new millennium a fine period to live in by releasing two most shining examples of classic progressive speed/thrash, a gorgeous double (a band releasing two LP’s in quick succession before splitting up or taking a lengthy break) which may as well remain unsurpassed on Polish, or probably even on European ground for years to come.

The Poles have always been more interested in death metal, and their contribution to that genre has been quite voluminous, second only to Sweden in Europe. However, even the less initiated should remember this attractive speed/thrash metal package constituting Kat, Wolf Spider, Turbo, Hammer, Astharoth, Hellias and Acrimony. Other names can by all means be added to this list, but from a mainstream point-of-view Polish thrash has never been a steady seller; even more so nowadays. Acts like Merciless Death, Brainwashed, Manslaughter, Fanthrash, the excellent Voivod-worshippers Myopia, Raging Death, the technical sterile modern thrashers Maggoth, the progressive death/thrash hybriders Vedonist try to keep the flame alive at present, but it will take more to make Polish thrash a major player on the European metal field.

Hellfire by all means fit into this group, but their delivery is more flamboyant and diverse. It takes elements from speed and a bit of power metal, and blends it with the furious thrashy “skirmishes” for the creation of a most compelling listen that combines the best from luminaries like Manticora, Agent Steel, Paradox, Destiny’s End/late-80’s Helstar, and a not very known, but utterly essential US act from the late-80's, Holy Terror (also "a double" possessors). Two of the people responsible for this should be mentioned beforehand: the guitar player Artur Grabowski aka Xan, a virtuoso of Shrapnel-like proportions whose inhuman versatile shreds are a vital ingredient from the band’s “cuisine”. The other performer is Tomasz Twardowski aka Tom the Storm, a hugely gifted vocalist from the John Cyriis (Agent Steel), Ski (Deadly Bllessing), and early Eric AK (Flotsam & Jetsam) school; in other words, expect outstanding high-strung dramatic exploits behind the mike the man crying, wailing, screaming and everything in-between to give his fair share to the bombastic aura of this recording.

The band’s debut, which came out in 2003, was already a stunning display of dazzling musicianship, classic intricate speed/thrash at its uncompromising best. The guys simply had to rise to their own challenge since they didn’t have much competition in their homeland at the time. Even Atlas’ rise would be humbled compared to the album reviewed here; if that was ever possible, the band have managed to top their first coming by a certain notch. If the debut was easily beating more speed metal-prone acts like Persuader, early Blind Guardian and the Finns Predator in their own game, the album reviewed here is a most perfect blend of all the three aforementioned styles although to these ears power metal has been reduced to less than a humble “assistant”, and it can’t be any other way with this constant blitzkrieg cannonade crashing from all sides.

One has to bypass a “Fallen Mary” first, a short intro with the supposed Mary talking about her fall or thereabouts, before he/she gets exposed to the speed/thrashing “carnage” which starts without any ado with “Road to Hell”, a most appropriate title with schizoid fast riffs lashing painfully topped by standout dramatic vocal tirades; classical virtuosities arrive later in both the lead and the riff department to enchant the listener. “The House” begins with a peaceful balladic stroke, but the machine gun-like delivery resumes before long the ultra-sharp riffage carving burrows in the fan’s body. “Needle Dance” will make all the needles in your house dance the thrash “waltz” which starts with a brilliant nod to the classical heritage in the best tradition of Helstar’s “Nosferatu”; furious gallops follow suit the guys weaving unforgettable rhythmic labyrinths which become more aggressive and a tad less melodic in the second half with Twardowski ruling the proceedings with impossible hellish screams.

“Twist of Knige” has a quiet piano tune pacifying the listener who has to brace him/herself for another display of classical-oriented genius before more laid-back mid-tempo shred takes over to stay there till the end. “Wired Tale/Deadly Lullaby” unleashes heavy, almost doomy, guitars initially before the speed/thrashing crescendos commence on full-throttle interrupted in the middle by a brash more technical whirlwind; expect an imposing lead-driven passage near the end, too, alongside superb virtuous shredding. “Insidious Treat” is straight-ahead speed metal the more intense thrashy additives appearing mid-way to make this cut the lost hymn from Paradox’ “Heresy”. “Defection” tries to “defect to the enemies” with another serene interlude, but impetuous epic thrashing saves the day the riffs staying more on the pounding, choppy side with a very sharp, cutting edge; superb mid-paced rifforama with progressive build-ups and marvellous guitar acrobatics. The final “The Answer” will answer all questions you may have regarding classic speed/thrash the guys changing tempos at will, making this anthem the most technical composition here with steel gallops taking turns with hyper-active speedy “shootings” the ensuing drama accentuated by another over-the-top, operatic performance by Twardowski.

One may think that Marty Friedman, Toby Knapp and Jason Becker have gotten together here to give way to their passion for the good old speed/thrash… the virtuoso shredding is so dense that it would be hard to believe that neither of these musicians, or at least another less known representative from the Shrapnel catalogue, hasn’t been involved in the creation of this unparalleled shredfest. Xan is helped by another axeman, Jakub Olejnik, who disappeared without a trace after this album never to be heard again. The two guitarists duel like demented throughout these 50-min only having a break on those several short quiet moments, giving a rare lesson in technical/progressive speed/thrash riffing which goes beyond the early sketches drawn by Hawaii and Cacophony. If Tony Fredianelli’s Apocrypha presented the heavy, squashing side of virtuoso Shredland, Hellfire has very nicely taken care of its hyper-active, speedy one. It’s hard to think of another band nowadays playing in the fast parametres with such high riffy density. Paradox’s Charlie Steinhauer’s collaboration with the Obscura guitar maestro Christian Munzner came very close on the Germans’ “Tales of the Weird”, and their latest opus “Pangea” is another noteworthy example of this exuberant style. The previously mentioned Manticora are also a strong contender, but their approach is more progressive and more diverse with less concentration on shredding spiral-like dramatics. Some would like to throw in the name Dragonforce here, but the UK riffmongers are much more melodic and much less imaginative.

The band are not active as of now, but Xan is busy with half of the Polish metal constellation on a full-time basis, shredding with the thrash metal outfit Dragon’s Eye, the death metal cohort Sphere, the technical thrash/death wizards Vedonist, and a few more acts. A very very busy schedule for sure although neither of these formations seems to be a vehicle for his extraordinary talents except Vedonist to some extent; he hasn’t been fully utilized, and may as well one day, just like that, decide to stir another feast of hellish firo… sorry, pyrotechnics.

Great music, vocals take a little getting used to - 84%

Aeturnus65, October 15th, 2005

Hailing from Poland, Hellfire is a band I had, until recently, never heard of. Granted, I don’t really keep up on the Polish metal scene in any sort of depth, but the general consensus seems to be that Hellfire is indeed a rather unknown entity. Exactly why might this be? The answer to such a question is not easy to produce, but it would seem that perhaps the style of music they play has something to do with it. The description on their main M-A page says “Heavy/Thrash” metal, a label which admittedly is not incorrect, though it’s not entirely correct either. Hellfire happens to be one of those bands that are simply very difficult to classify without being overly verbose. Actually, perhaps the best I can do is to ask you to imagine a mix of Nevermore, especially in the musical style (thrashy, but not really thrash, if you know what I mean), King Diamond, and maybe Persuader, all tinged with a slight hint of ultra-fast death metal (very slight). Yeah, that might not make much sense just reading it, so I’d highly recommend you head to their homepage and try out the sample song they offer (“The House”).

Upon first listen you’ll quickly take note of the vocal gymnastics provided by singer Tomasz Twardowski. The band likes to really promote the King Diamond comparisons, especially in terms of the vocals. In many ways these comparisons are legitimate. Twardowski is all over the place and does a lot of shrieking which, if you’re not used to the style, will sound strange at first. His high-pitched work, however, is actually more akin to something like Rob Halford than the King’s signature falsetto in that it sounds like a more forceful scream (not to say he’s as good as Halford). I can see a lot of people being turned off by Twardowski, though I find his odd style somewhat refreshing. That being said, I have to dock a few points for his seeming lack of control. What I mean is, sometimes Twardowski seemingly forgets he has music backing him and goes completely out of key, and not in a good way at all. Worst of all are the slower parts where a little more controlled emotion would be nice, maybe taking things down a notch, if you get my drift. A little more practice wouldn’t hurt, especially in regards to this criticism. Also, his accent is noticeable, though for the style of music I don’t see this as being that big of an issue.

Twardowski also wrote the lyrics to this album, and I’m especially torn over them. From what I have so far gathered, the horror-themed concept literally revolves around a woman named Mary who, while lost in a forest, finds a large house that she mistakes for a place of shelter. Within that house lives Jack who, judging from the bevy of “slaves” he seems to keep, is a pretty twisted dude. The story deals with Mary’s experiences during her stay at this house; suffice it to say that it’s not light-hearted fluff. Beyond the literal interpretation, well, you can draw your own conclusions as to what the band is getting at. What irks me about the whole thing is the fact that Twardowski clearly has yet to fully grasp the English language (both speaking/singing and writing). Parts of the lyrics are just plain head-scratchers, some passages seemingly concocted by Twardowski randomly picking words, sticking them together, and calling it a song. Not helping at all is the fact that Twardowski seems to reinforce some of the stereotypes of vocalists singing in second-language English – for example, the word “the” is used for a reason, and simply skipping over it, despite its inclusion on the printed lyric-sheet, is not a good idea (“Come to basement, come to cellar…” in “The House” sounds silly). Despite these problems, however, I was able to get the gist of the songs and the story they told, so I can’t really complain too much. Actually, I love horror-themed concept albums. Sure, King Diamond and others have been doing it for decades, but it’s still fun, a welcome change from anything involving fantasy topics and/or the deeply “poetic” stuff that I never really get anyways.

Beyond Twardowski’s vocal work we have an extremely solid group of musicians. A lot of the rhythm guitar work is indeed thrash-influenced in a sense (you know, razor-sharp and hyperfast riffs, and lots of ‘em, too). Toss in plenty of melodic leads – tastefully done, of course – and you’re starting to get the picture. Drummer Grzegorz Olejnik is rock-solid throughout the duration of the disc; the man can clearly play. Expect a ton of double bass drums, though again, tastefully done in that they are properly used to ratchet up the aggression and power at certain key points, and not to just clatter away making noise for forty minutes. Another thing I enjoy about this album is the song structure – these songs are on the long side, though you likely won’t get bored. Ever hear a seven minute song with two or three short verses and a chorus that is reused way too much? Well, Twardowski largely fills each song to the brim with lyrics in an effort to advance the story. In this way the disc is more like literature with only nine songs and lots of content to get through. For some reason I’m always thinking of later Dark Angel songs like “Psychosexuality” that just seem to go on and on and on with great lyrics. Whether you enjoy the concept may hinge on whether you enjoy horror; I’m a huge fan of horror literature and movies, so I think the concept is great. Your mileage may vary.

Finally, a note on the production: it’s perhaps a little “dry”, and the drums could be beefed up a bit. Also, the band has no permanent bass player, and it’s obvious after listening to this that the bass parts (played by one of the guitarists) are very secondary. In fact, at times you’ll wonder if there is even any bass at all. All the more to highlight the razor-sharp riffs, I guess, but you do wonder what Hellfire would sound like with a massively heavy production. In trying to think of a comparison I keep coming back to Persuader’s debut, The Hunter, so if you’ve heard that one then you have a little idea of what this thing sounds like. Not exactly the same, of course, but in that style – perhaps faster, thrashier, and much less anthemic, if you know what I mean. Come to think of it, after you listen to this disc you probably won’t remember a single chorus. If that sounds like a bad thing, then you probably won’t like Hellfire too much.

Again, I highly recommend checking out samples of this band to see if you like their style. Trying to pinpoint exactly what they sound like is futile since Hellfire just aren’t conducive to any one strict genre filing. Really, there’s not much more to say. If you like any of the bands I mentioned above, or are in the mood for something dark yet adventurous, by all means would I recommend Hellfire. Just don’t go in with any preconceived notions and you might really like what you find.