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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.