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When it came to my attention that Phlegethon main man Lasse had yet again put together a new band, I expected something noteworthy. Going by the alias Leper of Berzano (or Leper Messiah earlier) here, he has a reputation of only being involved in quality projects. As it turns out, Hooded Menace is nothing short of phenomenal.
The genre description of death/doom metal is fair, but slightly misleading with this album. This is nitpicky, I know, but it would be more accurate to say that what we have here is a death metal band playing music that closely resembles traditional doom - in other words, if you expect another My Dying Bride clone, please look elsewhere. It must be said that my knowledge of traditional doom is somewhat limited, but I always get a very distinctive "70's" feel from it, and that is exactly what this album does for me. The general atmosphere here is very close to cult horror movies - I have read somewhere that they are a major influence - complete with fitting lyrics and some sound effects; this might explain the "retro" impression.
You should have guessed by now that the music on 'Fulfill the Curse' is devastatingly heavy. The riffs (almost) literally crush the listener to small pieces and, not surprisingly, are the key element in songwriting. Being lengthy and relatively complex, they have unusually much to offer to one's ears. But that's not all - there are lots of leads here as well, appropriately executed and a joy to listen to (even if the atmosphere only grows more "evil" as the lead guitar steps in). Many of the actual guitar solos (as opposed to lead melodies) also have that bluesy, traditional vibe to them, and fit surprisingly well.
Lasse/Leper's vocals are another major factor on the album. While not terribly original for the genre, they are powerful enough and perfectly mixed with just the right amount of echo. I'm certainly not new to harsh vocals, but this performance nearly made me feel afraid; this should be seen as a positive statement. The overall sound politics should also cause no objections - from the ripping guitars to the crisp and audible bass to the "thick" drums, this soundscape could not be better for the purpose it serves.
With nine tracks and a little over fifty minutes, this album is not exceptionally long - there certainly isn't any chance of getting bored. But what IS exceptional is that the songs actually feel a lot longer than they are - and I mean this in a good way. Each and every track is a journey that you wouldn't want to end at all. As a song ends, you cannot believe how short it was when looking at the time.
While I really can't name any stand-out tracks here, there is one worth mentioning for a different reason. I'm talking about the instrumental cover tune 'Theme from Manhattan Baby'. Now, I certainly don't mean to say that it is any worse than their originals; musically, it fits the album very well and is a fantastic choice in every possible way. But the track is placed as the final one, and does feel just a little unnecessary there. I would rather have seen it used as an interlude of sorts in the middle of the album.
The afore-mentioned minor detail aside, there is absolutely nothing bad about 'Fulfill the Curse'. The riffy slow parts are simply breathtaking, and while the more "death metal"-sounding moments (with double kick-drums and everything) are slightly less original, they work very nicely too. If this is not a future classic, I don't know what is. Go get it now.