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This is the second full length album from Polish death masters Hellspawn and third recording of theirs, which I had a pleasure to listen to and I must admit it is a real pleasure to be able to observe how the music of this band has been developing and maturing through all these years, since the release of their “Demo 2005”. And the word “maturity” is a key here, I think, as really since the “Child of Hell” CD Hellspawn have grown up and actually managed to fix everything what was wrong with their previous album, so now they appear to be a damn vicious and lethal death metal force. Obviously they still sound very Polish, but that is not an objection, but rather a proof that the scene in this country is like a never ending mine, where one can find really many, many great bands.
When comparing “The Great Red Dragon” to “Child of Hell” I can only point out the positive aspects of Hellspawn’s development and really this new album is much better than the debut. First of all, the music itself has been bettered and as I already pointed it out, it matured. It still is pretty intense, fast and brutal death metal, yeah, but the riffs are just better, there are also more interesting and killer, as well as memorable ideas and motifs, plus I can honestly say that the guitar leads, which are on “The Great Red Dragon” are just excellent. But yeah, the riffs are really great, the music is often very tight and extreme, but still quite memorable, which is a good aspect of “The Great Red Dragon”, as there’s nothing worse if death metal becomes just a mindless brutality, which leads you nowhere… Plus it’s not just a chase with the light all the time through the album… Sure, the fast playing is still dominating the most part of Hellspawn’s music, but luckily this time the band managed to vary their songs, using the killer, slow parts more often and this diversity made a very good effect. “The Great Red Dragon” is really interesting, it is very intense and yet, it is has enough space to really catch the attention and that is excellent thing. More so, I must point out that finally Hellspawn has achieved a good production; the sound on “The Great Red Dragon” is so great. I mean the lack of really killer and energetic sound was probably the main failure on “Child of Hell”; meanwhile “The Great Red Dragon” sounds crispy, but brutal and still very powerful. I really like the guitar tone, as well as the way the vocals have been mixed and performed. Actually I think I like everything about this album and since I started to listen to it last week, I still enjoy the music a lot…
And an extra word should be said about the artwork for the album and the lyrics. I like the fact that Hellspawn putted Polish translations of their texts and I must say that the Polish version of the lyrics from “The Great Red Dragon” are really, really good, maybe even better than the English ones; but of course the band growls the English words only and that is actually good, as I’m not a big fan of Polish lyrics in death metal generally. So, if I can say anything for the end then it would be just a word of praise and a total recommendation of this album for everyone, who’s into this style of music.
Standout tracks: “Word Becomes Flesh”, “Revelation of the Great Red Dragon”
It’s unceasingly inspiring how even the lower tiers of Polish death metal seem to have an admirable amount of quality. I’ve had a huge exposure to this scene over the last few months via the good folk over at Godz ov War and Selfmadegod, and nothing on their rosters has proven an exception to this rule… as of yet, anyways. While Hellspawn may not have knocked me upside the head quite as hard as some of their brethren, they nevertheless fail to disappoint in regards to rigorous baseline quality, and provide a satisfactory firestorm of violence on this, their second album, The Great Red Dragon.
Like many groups purveying this style of pummeling, diabolical force, it’s tempting to draw a distinct parallel to Behemoth and call it a day, but the rather raw, direct attack here bears looking further back into the metal timeline to the formative demonic summonings of Deicide, who, if we’re honest, indirectly influenced groups like Behemoth in the first place. The barbaric method of attack here brings to mind some of the more recent works of Glen Benton and company, while the aesthetic of the riffing itself bears the brand of another Floridian institution, the once-indomitable Morbid Angel. Not a very unique set of influences, given, but virtually thousands of bands have proven that such a marriage is a recipe for some very fucking good death metal. Hellspawn can safely be counted among their number.
The Great Red Dragon is a brutal album, and it excels at being brutal. Barring a few short breaks, we’re talking relatively consistent break-neck pacing. However, some spacious, suitably evil riffing patterns keep the record from feeling like an unflappable jackhammer. The style of the guitar licks is safely within the expected confines of the above-mentioned legends, and though they’re not highly memorable, they aren’t without a degree of creativity, either. Hellspawn do not simply chug and blast, chug and blast, but put together some compelling note patterns that elevate them slightly above the norm. What truly distinguishes them, however, and proves to be the feather in their goat-skin cap, is the generous slathering of positively divine lead guitar work. This thing is riddled with dense, well-composed bursts of melody that envelop you like an ancient, evil force, bristling with unknown power and radiating vibrant diabolical energy. These sections rise far above the relative familiarity of the riffs and bestow some real, compelling personality to Hellspawn.
If only as much could be said of the remainder, as even though the riffing doesn’t really falter, per say, it fails to consistently excite, or even differentiate itself, from itself, enough to remain totally engaging. At 27 minutes, this is already a brief excursion, so it’s not a good thing that many of the patterns, for all their admitted quality, tend to blend into each other. I must note, however, that this can’t be attributed to all of the selections, as there are a number of fantastic note progressions here, it’s just that they’re the exception rather than the rule. The rest admittedly kick varying degrees of ass, but they tend to feel exceedingly similar the deeper into the record you go.
Even given the familiarity of many songs, however, it’s hard to feel bored here. The musicians are beasts, the production is slick and forceful, and the overall brevity ensures this snack-size helping of break-neck whirling doesn’t overstay its welcome. Vocals are a hateful bark that function admirably in their role, most comparable to Glen Benton, but aren’t unique or tangential from the norm in any way, and you know, the album at large can be quantified as such, which I mean to be in no way as insulting as it might sound. The Great Red Dragon is a highly functional hailstorm of brutal death metal with good, if familiar riffing and a propensity for some absolutely stunning leads, spread evenly enough to bestow some much-needed personality and ensure the tension level stays high throughout its short running time. It wouldn’t be my first choice in the underground Polish death circuit this year, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t still a strong showing that should snap its fair share of vertebrae. Those inclined to bang along to diabolical brutality, or bask in the ancient grandeur of early Morbid Angel or Behemoth will no doubt find a good amount of value here, and this would make an excellent stocking stuffer for your buddy who was let down by the new Deicide.
-Left Hand of Dog
Like the Swedish death metal scene, Poland has also managed to produce their own distinctive brand of death metal, helmed by bands such as Hate and Vader, fusing thrash and black metal elements into something that can truly be considered a Polish death metal sound. Unfortunately, similar to Swedish death metal, this trend catches on extremely quickly, resulting in too many similar-sounding bands spawning in the region. Hellspawn this year releases their sophomore full length, entitled The Great Red Dragon.
The cliches that make Polish death metal such an enjoyable genre are immediately evident as Hellspawn begins their relentless onslaught with The First Banner in the Fields of the Devil. Crushing and furious riffs, broken by the blackened sounding lead guitars, with the gruff vocals that sound like a cross between Vader's Piotr and Behemoth's Nergal, and that urgent drumming all help to add up to that classic Polish death metal sound. Hellspawn attempts a more brutal approach on The Great Red Dragon though, as layers of growls are put together to create a more monstrous feel to the vocals. Suffice to say, their efforts pay off as the songs on the album are some of the more refreshing ones of late.
Another aspect that caught my attention were the lead guitars that were littered throughout the album, providing some sense of order to the chaos that the riffs provide beneath. The chunky guitar tone, combined with the heavy chugging that guitarists Daniel and Marcin utilise also helps to create a heavy impact on the listener. The production on the album also ensures that each of the individual instruments on the album are clear and stand out, with the drums, along with the guitars providing the driving force in the music. The band also does not shy away from using synths to create a dark and ominous atmosphere, and this is most obvious on Intro to the Revelation, a prelude to the destruction that comes right after that.
The Great Red Dragon lasts below the 30-minute mark and while for some albums this could be a good thing, for Hellspawn this has instead caused the band to have little time to really build up the tension, ending just as things start to sound good, resulting in the listener craving for even more. While the band's intention could very well be to channel blasphemy through a short and straightforward outburst, having an album that lasted longer would have allowed for a more memorable and enjoyable experience instead. That said though, the 27 minutes that are present on this album are short, but definitely sweet as hell.
The Great Red Dragon is the sophomore effort by Polish death metal horde Hellspawn, and if this is anything to go by then they could certainly have a bright future ahead of them. Opting for a more brutal, clinical approach to proceedings than the recent wave of Swedish influenced acts which currently seem to be in vogue (not that I’m complaining), Hellspawn have a sound that appears somewhat of a consolidation of old school US death metal influences and the rather sleeker veneer of compatriots Vader and Decapitated.
One of the aspects of this release that initially drew my attention was the extremely thick and tangible guitar tone which is heavier than a bus full of Gene Hoglan’s. The riffs themselves twist and turn with a crushing, clever groove, convoluting and pulverising a path through Robert’s technically proficient, blast strewn brutal drumming and Mariusz’s deep set gutturals from which I can certainly derive influences of Dave Vincent. The guitar in general be it the huge riffing or wild soloing is all heavily influenced by Morbid Angel, it has just been polished up a touch.
Speaking of the guitar solos, they’re littered all throughout The Great Red Dragon during its brief stay and add a welcome sense of twisted melody and variation to what could otherwise be a rather one dimensional release. Luckily for Hellspawn though they kept their tracks mostly around the three minute mark which was a smart move as this particular strain of death metal is notoriously problematic with bands creating songs which just drag on and on into a horizon of aimless monotony.
The short yet potent bursts of brutality keep the concentration from waning and prevent Hellspawn from ever becoming too stale. Any arguements I have with this release lie solely with the song writing which becomes quite predictable, notably so towards the album’s closing stages where the songs sort of just run into one. The musicianship though is ace, amplified by the great clean production job which clearly accentuates each individual instrument yet refrains from dousing the fire which so many ‘modern’ production jobs manage to do.
Still, regardless of the slight lack of originality and diversity The Great Red Dragon is a very respectable effort at a style of death metal which more often than not bores me to tears. What it lacks in innovation it more than makes up for in spirit and technique, which is present in abundance. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that all that’s important? The latest Horrendous album is still by far and large the death metal album to beat this year though; still, fans of Vader, Morbid Angel and Hate Eternal will definitely dig this and should give it a blast.
After enduring a century of warfare, political oppression, and bad ethnic humor from the rest of us, Poland has channeled its internal conflict and strife into what must be one of the deepest, most impressive death metal subcultures the world over. Only Sweden and the USA could really match it. When you can go two, maybe three tiers deep in this scene and find albums like The Great Red Dragon awaiting you, it becomes obvious that there must be something in the water there, and while Hellspawn might not bring anything appreciably new or different to the butcher block, their competent execution of the genre's tropes proves ably brutal and engaging enough to render the sophomore a success.
I love the huge, boxy guitar tone which just explodes out of my headset here, festooned in frivolous, zipping and bloody leads that help counterbalance the lower end ballast of the composition. Structurally, they possess a huge and similar tone to peers like Vader or Behemoth, and by this I mean they tend to drawn upon the earlier influences of groups like Morbid Angel and Deicide with a mix of blasted and grooved elements and an often dual-layered vocal attack which features gutturals and snarls. The primary, growled vocals definitely seem like a mixture of David Vincent and Martin van Drunen, which is quite corpulent and effective above the mixture of death, black and thrash aesthetics in the riffing. I enjoy the band's use of flooded, dissonant melodic passages like you'll hear in "Word Becomes Flesh", and they keep a lot of their tracks reined in well under 3 minutes, so they just burst right into existence, clobber you with some skill and then vanish off into the nether.
The Great Red Dragon is a pretty sweet sounding record, with that aforementioned guitar sound, the clarity of the drums and vocals and, surprisingly, a nice thick bass tone which anchors it all into a darker, foreboding space. Many bands spend whole careers concocting such a balance, yet Hellspawn have done it in just two full-length records. The only caveat here is that, while I appreciate the band's infernal level of energy, and the fact that they keep the tunes tense, brief and incendiary, nothing ever feels quite that unique or memorable. This is a well-rounded effort, mind you, and few songs feel precisely the same, plus it has the benefit of arriving and departing in under 28 minutes, and some well written, blasphemous lyrics, but I wouldn't call it infectious. That said, fans of classic 90s brutality like the earlier efforts of Vader or Hate, or Morbid Angel circa Covenant will likely find it a formidable listen.