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Remember Phlegethon? Probably not, am I right? Phlegethon is a pretty obscure death metal outfit from Finland. Back in the day they had a couple of demos and a somewhat odd EP that is now out of print and hard to find. It's a typical story by the standards of the extreme metal scene. And by all rights, Phlegethon and everyone in it should have been lost to the sands of time, perhaps only briefly and slightly rediscovered when some enterprising, tiny label reissued "Fresco Lungs" with the demos as bonus tracks, and a few hundred metalheads out there picked it up for the first time and said, "Damn - this band really should have done a full-length."
Fast forward to years later...
Lasse from Phlegethon gets the band back together. They crank out a couple new demos and whaddayaknow, it's more straight-forward but surprisingly fierce and brutal music from the guys. But apparently he has an itch that a few demo tracks can't quite scratch. That itch turns into side project mania, a syndrome familiar from the likes of Dan Swano (Edge of Sanity, Pan.Thy.Monium, Bloodbath, etc.) and Rogga Johansson (Ribspreader, Paganizer, Demiurg, etc.). And if you've kept up with the works of those two, you probably know that side project mania can produce some interesting works at times, but also some disappointing ones; generally the best thing to be said about 95% of side projects is that they are decent but decidedly lesser works. So when I noticed that Lasse had within a couple of years gotten involved in two side projects - Claws, a throwback to obscure Swedish and Finnish bands like Crematory and Abhorrence; and then this one, Hooded Menace - I figured I should check them out, but not get my hopes up. Claws only has a couple of demo songs so far, and they are really promising.
But Hooded Menace... holy shit.
Hooded Menace describe themselves as death metal on their MySpace page, but from what I can tell they are at least three-quarters doom metal. And not just lowercase boring ol' doom metal, but huge, loud, earth-splitting DOOM FUCKING METAL. On top of the foundation of doom they have indeed built some structures familiar from death metal - deep, growling vocals that sound exactly like some thing from a crypt (which fits them well, as I'll explain momentarily), and some occasional deathly riffing and drumming.
For the most part though, Menace are delivering a drug that hits the doom, rather than death, centers of the metal brain. And they do it very, very well. The riffs are winding, off-kilter, very long affairs that take ages to get back to their own starting points; but they are also unfailingly well-made and catchy. There's almost no stock chugga-chugga here. Lead parts meander in and out and bring a surprising melodicism and sense of craftsmanship to the forefront at times. The song structures are epic - the band isn't afraid to switch it up on a regular basis, change the beat, introduce a cycling melody for a while that then recedes into another thunderous doom riff. Songs tend to be 5 to 7 minutes long, but they feel like adventures - calling to mind the best work of obvious influences like Candlemass, as well as great old school death epics like Entombed's "Left Hand Path." Drifting down the tangled corridors of a song like "The Eyeless Horde" gives me a feeling I don't often get from modern extreme metal - the feeling of getting lost in a composition, that it may take five or more listens to fully understand it, but when I do I will undoubtedly never want to leave. "Fulfill the Curse" is a rare purchase that I can't tear away from - since I got it in the mail a few days ago I've listened to little else. It keeps drawing me back.
The band's chief non-musical inspiration is horror movies - fitting for a Razorback-signed band. Specifically, they were inspired by the "Blind Dead" movies from Spain. If you've never seen these cult classics of Eurohorror, they involve zombiefied Knights Templar, walking (and horseback-riding) around in literal slow motion, making creepy groans, and grasping for prey that they cannot see but can only hear. This material is so well-suited to a death/doom band like Hooded Menace that I had to watch "Tombs of the Blind Dead" just a few days ago to set the mood.
This lyrical bent set the band up perfectly for a deal with Razorback, which in turn helped cement the label's new direction - a little less grind, a little more old school death metal. For a guy with my particular metal proclivities, this is a welcome change. I liked the last Crypticus album quite a bit, for instance. But Hooded Menace is the best thing going for Razorback right now, and every time I listen to this I can't help but start imagining what the next release might be like. I urge all fans of doom and death metal to pick this thing up as quick as you can, and I urge the band to make as many more of these as possible. And - fingers crossed - maybe we'll get lucky, and the new Phlegethon and Claws releases will be even half as incredible as this one. I very, very rarely hand out perfect scores to any new album, but Hooded Menace have earned one here.