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Now that I've listened to Hellhounds' "Ice Age" compilation, released in 1998 under Maximum Metal, I no longer associate Sunnyvale, California with Sun Rype raisins but rather, an explicit flame spewing Cerebus banging its three diabolic dog heads to some good ol' heavy metal.
Comprised of Rich Pelletier (Ancient Empire, ex-Forgotten Disciple, ex-Rapid Fire) on bass, Gary Neff (Shadow Killer, ex-Forced Psychosis) on drums, Bob Edwards (ex-Tyton) on guitar and Joe Liszt (Ancient Empire, Shadowkiller, ex-D-Train, ex-Sick Cell, Chain Control, Hard Road, ex-Rocka Rollas) on vocals and guitar, Hellhound should not be overlooked, especially if you're familiar with any of the bands listed above. In effect, the Ice Age Compilation's a great piece of metal lore, as it was released in 1998 when grunge was on its way out but the airwaves were still saturated with so-called "alternative" music, and worse, "nu-metal" shlop such as Machine Head or Limp Bizkit. Thankfully the Internet, which was just around the corner, put an end to heavy metal's dark Age. Its advent blessed hard & heavy music with wings (of steel), as it provided an untold number of determined and hard-working bands with the exposure necessary to make it on the World stage. For its part Hellhound's just one of many solid underground metal bands finally recognized as an integral player in the exciting saga which is heavy metal's explosive Comeback (ah, Leather Heart!) and dare I say long overdue musical revolution.
This sanguine and unpretentious release cuts straight to the chase with a doomsday themed seven minute opener, "chillingly" depicting doomsday in the form of a climatic calamity cryptically known as the "Ice Age". (Shoot! Didn't we just get over the last one?!). The frigid harmony of the opening title track fittingly introduces this hour-long barrage of raw, rapacious vocals and caustic, speedy-but not quite speed metal instrumentation.
Following "Ice Age", "Flee The Bomb" yanks me out of my lethargy as it goes straight for the jugular with a jarring flash in the pan introductory solo yielding three minutes of essential Hellhound: fast intricate riffing, more spontaneous wailing solos, fierce drumming and a slew of prominent bone rattling bass lines. "Killing Spree" offers more of the same while retaining a distinct 80s thrash vibe akin to Anthrax, Exciter, or perhaps Overkill. I'm by no means an authority on thrash metal but I can confidently say Hellhound turns up the heat on this one as well; it's fast tempo definitely screams youthful vigor and enthusiasm all the way.
"Suffer The Innocent" features an intrepid Pelletier keeping his own agenda as he not only supports the guitars but layers a get-outta-the-way jangle with effervescent hooks and variations while bouncing all over the place with uncanny mobility- it's one of those bass lines which always sound like it's the first time you're hearing it. Challenging would be a good word to describe his bass playing in general, especially on this track. As for Liszt and Edwards, both deliver exalted, rough and tough developments which, to their benefit, aren't overly technical (such as with outright death metal) but engaging and varying enough to keep the listener rapt until the end. Explicit thrash legions will appreciate Joe's gruff hard-line vocals as well as Hellhound's uncompromising savagery. While Ancient Empire and Shadowkiller wasted no time making a name for themselves with a couple of glowing, polished gems in "Other World" and "When The War is Won" (along with Ice Age, consider listening to these releases your homework- you can thank me later!), Hellhound's been slowly brewing the cauldron of broken time, solidifying their modest discography with demos and a further compilation, Anthology, in 2008 before finally releasing a full length debut 35 years (!) in the making, Nothing Left, just last year. On the other hand, Hellhound's Ice Age is what you'd call a diamond in the rough, as this beast from Hades unapologetically gave heavy metal a much needed kick in the arse. ( You have to remember it was 1998 and the metal World was still reeling from the travesty which Metallica had become since their Black album.)
Most will agree a little instrumental action is welcome now and then. Considering Ice Age is a "best of" compilation, there's always room for one more. Unobtrusively supplementing this release is "Usurper" and the seven minute long "Hammerslag", which are both a testament to the band's musical skill and experience. It's also a nice break from Joe's vocals, but all in all he performs well, blending in with the music most of the time. The only track I'm not crazy about is the next-to-last, "Beyond Time And Space", which grates on me as it lacks cohesion and direction despite a valiant attempt at experimentation. Thankfully, Hellhound's reprise of this track on Nothing Left sounds properly arranged and produced, as well as benefitting from much fresher guitar tones.
On the other hand, "Hellhound" sticks out radically with its sliding riffs and pre-emptive guitar solo. I especially dig the sharp, evil sounding leads at the mid-point. Without a doubt,"Flee The Bomb" and "Hellhound" stand out as the best tracks as there's nothing quite like blazing lead guitar(s) to kick start both track and listener. That and they're also more palatable at less than four minutes each. The other bonus tracks are also worth their salt. To be sure, bassist Pelletier and drummer Neff command as much presence as their fellow axe-men. Another haymaker of a track is "Asylum" which takes the listener on a frenzied eight minute thrash fest of galloping rhythms, tense blast beats and all-around hell-bent fury. While it's not my go-to track on this release, I can certainly appreciate the fact its got balls and practically transcends genres - into death metal - with its boldly aggressive riffs and catatonic drumming.
Aside from a shoddy, demo-like production and the tedious "Beyond Time And Space", Hellhound's old school metal compilation begs to be heard. In fact, it's got a reckless spontaneous feel to it, in a similar vein as Boulder's The Rage Of It All and 3 Inches Of Blood's Battle Cry Under A Winter Sun, personal favorites of mine released shortly before and after the turn of the millennium. Overall, Rich Pelletier and Gary Neff work great together, and supplemented by Edwards and Liszt's expedient chops, Hellhound is long overdue for recognition, not just for "Nothing Left" but also for its glorious compilations. As a parting note, instead of selling out with "(Re-) Load" - what an irksome title - Metallica could have brushed up on its metal 101 and taken cues from its low-key yet firmly rooted counterpart up the road in Sunnyvale. There's no doubt about it: Hellhound has duly earned its bone.
Hellhound were a thrash metal band from the U.S., formed already in 1981 along with the thrash metal pioneers Slayer and Metallica. They only released three demos in their short-lived career, and then they split up. This best of - compilation I'm reviewing contains all the songs they've written in their career.
The music varies from early Exodus to Attacker and even Helstar (Think of Nosferatu), as well as some other heroes from the 80s. The music is pretty catchy, the riffs are quite good (especially the technical ones), and you can hear some entertaining drumming too, fast but varied. The vocalist is a bit weak but it is not really a problem, his vocals are still acceptable. As for the bass, it is clearly audible, and it is also pretty good. The production is not the best around but for a demo it is really good, you can clearly hear everything even though sometimes the drumming has a louder volume than anything else.
The highlights? Well almost every track here is on the same level. "Flee the Bomb" has that catchy chorus and the solo is worth-mentioning too. The instrumental but short "The Usurper" has some really great guitars work, while "Killing Spree" is a very nice fast track. It's a shame these guys split up after only three demos, they sure had the potential to become a big name in the thrash metal underground.
In the end, this is well worth your attention.