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Hellion's The Black Book is a largely overlooked gem. It seems Hellion as a whole tends to get largely overlooked when talking about female fronted heavy metal bands from the 80s. This is a huge shame, as they are a very competent band. The bands full-length career manages to showcase material of greater quality than the first EP did (admittedly, that one wasn't that great). The first album cements Hellion as one of the better female fronted heavy metal bands I've come into contact with. With this one, I actually think they managed to rise to the top of my list.
Now, this is a concept album, but if it wasn't for the spoken word interludes that are scattered across the album I would probably never have noticed. The main point of this release seems to be to deliver quality heavy metal songs, and that's also what Hellion manages to do here. The spoken word interludes admittedly aren't the highlights of the album. They are supposed to advance the story, but the acting is kind of sketchy. They are however pretty unobtrusive and don't detract from the album in any major way.
Where this album shines however, is the actual heavy metal songs that make up most of it. I've never thought of this as a concept album first hand, as the story seems to come second after the music when it comes to the band's priorities. Some might say the concept sounds tacked on, but I'd simply say it's easy to pay it no attention whatsoever and just listen to this as if it were a metal album. And this is not a problem as the album completely slays, concept or not.
Now, some people might say that it isn't very unique in it's approach. And those people would be right. What Hellion's doing here is similar to what a lot of other bands have done and are still doing today. Hellion's The Black Book does not shine through being a special snowflake. The reason it slays is purely because it does what it does with surgical precision. Everything (well, maybe except the spoken word interludes) seems to fall naturally into place here. When all the instruments flow together as well as they do on this record, that speaks very clearly about how well written it is.
The guitar player just throws out one awesome riff after another throughout the album. Going for a style comparable to Judas Priest's Painkiller mixed with a heavier Iron Maiden, the riffing on this album manages to stay compelling throughout. Drumming on this album is also really good, especially in how it adds to the general flow of the album while still working as an engine constantly setting the pace and driving the album forward.
One thing I really love about this album is how the bass can be clearly heard throughout. Not only does the audible bass give the sound a really chunky feeling, the bass lines are also really good on their own and like the rest of the instruments, the way it all fits into the bigger picture is astonishing and a testament to how well written this album actually is.
Vocalist Ann Boleyn is absolutely top notch here. Utilizing a rough approach that fits very well with the bands general uncompromising style, she manages to lift the album to a whole new level with her astonishing performance. One of the best female vocalists in metal I've ever heard. Like a rougher, more competent Warlock-era Doro without the thick german accent, she manages to give this album a really sharp edge that sometimes would put even Rob Halford to shame.
It's hard to name any particular highlights of the album, as there is not a single bad song on this album. I do however think that Living in Hell and Daemon Attack manage to stand out even on an album such as this, being two uncompromising and excellently written tracks that any fan of heavy metal or speed metal ought to love. As for any dips, that's also a hard one. Besides the spoken word interludes, the album remains pretty consistent throughout, maybe ebbing out a tiny bit towards the end with The Atonement.
All of this, and especially the way it all comes together, results in an album that is much greater than the sum of it's parts. What we have here, might very well be one of the greatest US metal albums of all time. It's a damn shame that people tend to overlook it the way they do.