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What first drew me to HolyHell was the involvement of ex-Manowar drummer Kenny Earl "Rhino" Edwards. And what really drew my attention was singer Maria Breon's tits- I mean, singing, and that remains my lasting impression of Apocalypse, the (so far) sole release of HolyHell, consisting of 3 studio songs and a live track.
Make no mistake about this, this is performed competently and Breon can sing as well as the music requires and then some. This is vocal-oriented music, and the melodies, usually built upon the keyboards, exist to support Breon's singing. Even Manowar singer Eric Adams' involvement amounted to a supporting role; Breon takes center stage, each time, everytime.
It's when your attention starts wandering away from her singing that things start to look less rosy. Hell, even with your rapt attention on the singing, problems still crop up. Namely, the lyrics. They reek of mid-teen fat depressed goth girl "poetry" drek that makes it hard to take the band seriously at times. That being said, there is a substantial lack of, well, substance, here. The verses are short, the chorii are either short or simply one line repeated over and over again, and many times verses are repeated. The lyrical theme here seems to be a general comparison of good vs. evil in some sort of another or something equally banal and overdone. To boot, since this is singing-oriented music, the vocals are mixed up, so it's harder to miss the lyrics.
Worse still, all the rest of the bandmembers, Stump included, seem to suffer a debilitating lack of creativity and passion. Rhino bashes away at the kit like he always does, but I get the feeling he was instructed not to go stir-crazy so he wouldn't steal Breon's mojo. Stump shreds, of course, but his solos are pretty much interchangable, and apart from the solos, he really doesn't do anything special here. His riffs consist of mostly power chords, and it really limits the potential that this music can achieve. The keyboards are competently done enough, like every instrument here, but again, the melodies can get quite hackneyed. You don't believe what you're listening to, because, while just a minute ago they were playing kickass symphonic power metal, they start going into ultra cheesy "gothic" sounding passages that really make you cringe.
As well, each song seems to have a significant chunk of filler in it. It's excusable to have an off-song where you're not working on all cylinders, the abundance of filler here is really alarming. By my calculations, when you trim all the repeated passages, useless intros, and endless verse/chorus/verse banality (having 4 songs with 3 verses is ridiculous, let alone on a 4-song 25 minute EP), this is really only 15 or 16 minutes of material. As well, and this is a personal preference, but still, I find Resurrection unlistenable, for some reason. It's a corny ballad, 'nuff said.
However, there are good things about this. Like I said before, it's well performed and has a crystal clear production. When it kicks ass, it kicks ass, and if HolyHell would get to making more material (since this is only a 4 song EP) they could easily shit all over comparable bands like Nightwish. Yes indeed, this is good enough to warrant a few listens, although due to the rather unimaginative song structures here, the concept grows old fast. Still though, like I said, it's good enough. Joe Stump's soloing saves this, if only he would apply his tremendous skill to the rest of the riffs. Maybe on later efforts. And did I mention Maria Breon has a sexy voice? Because she does. It's great, and she's definitely not used well enough here. Still though, there's potential, and enough of it is showing here to warrant some headbanging. It's good enough, but unfortunately, in the highly competitive, highly saturated, and highly talented world of power metal, good enough just isn't enough.
Symphonic power metal is definitely a hit or miss type subject with me, either it's really overly symphonic and not the good type of symphonic, trading less metal elements and becoming more of a Within Temptation type band instead of utilizing symphonic elements, being grandiose and epic all while still remaining a metal band. HolyHell is one such band that seems to understand this, although it's not quite as consistent as it should be, on their first single Apocalypse containing 4 choice songs displaying quite a professional approach to the genre, probably owing much debt to master shredder Joe Stump and his knowledge of the music business and such.
The first song, the title song, being the best here featuring awesome symphonic type orchestrations allowing for a very grandiose and majestic feel feeling like something from Luca Turilli's side projects meets neo-classical bliss in this fast number that creates quite the imagery. I can clearly see myself standing on the ramparts of a castle whilst arrows darken the sky and legions of foot soldiers clashing on the fields below, bloody and guts everywhere and maybe a fucking Nazgul flying at me, especially at the 1 minute mark; yeah... you know what I'm talking about.
What makes this a bit more unique is the lead vocals of Maria Breon and her Simone Simons like approach, but probably not quite in the same league as her. Breon's still very talented and knows how to sing, she's nowhere as operatic as her colleagues but still knows what she's doing. The drums are what you should expect to find here with double bass euphoria and guitar riffs mixed perfectly with keyboards that scream neo-classical symphonies, being very similar to that of Rhapsody.
Resurrection is more of your stereotypical symphonic power metal song with some gothic metal type riffing and drumming patterns. It's not as powerful and doesn't strike as well as the title track, but the lead guitar work is fantastic and being a slower ballad-esque type song, it highlights Breon's vocals very well, showcasing her range very well. Mixing lower type slow singing to rapid fast falsettoes almost, doing a very good job. Last Vision is similar in this aspect, though once again featuring very nice symphonic elements but lacking the powerful punch that Apocalypse had; this once again showcases a slower and more traditional symphonic power metal song approach.
Out of nowhere these is a live song from the Masters of Rock Festival in 2005 being a cover of the infamous Phantom of the Opera, which every symphonic metal band does, but being slightly more unique featuring the one and only legend himself, Eric Adams. I've always enjoyed this song, especially Nightwish's rendition of it and HolyHell's cover is quite decent getting the crowd into it and making it more energetic. Breon does a good job, as she should because she's quite talented and Eric Adams, being the metal vocalist god that he is does a very good job, but unfortunately it doesn't do as well because there are no orgasmic ridiculous falsettoes that I wish for every night... fortunately though the mighty Joe Stump makes up for it shredding and soloing all over the place making it much more. At the end though, when the crowd is going nuts as Stump shreds the fuck out of the guitar and Breon does her best Tarja impression, Adams should have been ripping out one of his infamous "Kingdom Come" ending falsettoes, oh well, I suppose he didn't want to steal HolyHell's thunder.
So HolyHell does a decent job with this first release/single and has quite the professional touch with this, with Joe Stump's help and influence in the band making it a lot better that it would be and more unique. It's absolutely nothing out of the ordinary, but it's quite unique in it's own right making it a decent offering. This is worth picking up just for the title track alone, it being such a fantastic symphonic power metal song that packs quite a punch and has such majestic orchestrations. Fans of Rhapsody, Luca Turilli, symphonic power metal as well as shredders take note and watch out for HolyHell's upcoming full-length.