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A long time ago in a heavenly kingdom quite far from our domain, there was a cigarette-smoking angel that was always a little too drunk and vulgar for the inhabitants of paradise. One day, the angel started to play the guitar. Bored with its traditional antics, he created something very sinister and diabolical, and soon enough, heavy metal was born, but the inhabitants of heaven were none too appeased. After much consideration, it was decided he should pack his bags and leave. A little bitter but not torn, our special friend left the pearly gates with a middle finger in the air and that heavy metal essence flowing in his heart of coal. He gave it to a Mr. Iommi and three other souls in Birmingham, and soon the world was making the Devil's music to the joy of few and the disdain of many.
After Black Sabbath influenced what would become the battalion of metal elites, three dudes in Newcastle decided to try this metal thing as well, only taking it to a new sphere of blasphemous art in the form of Venom. The stuff Cronos, Mantas, and Abaddon created has forever been engraved in the hearts of pretty much every sub-genre that spawned from just a handful of rough 'n' tough singles and albums; only a fool would deny their universal importance. However, the band fell into a grey area after a handful of albums, and Venom was eventually in a cyclone of inconsistency that tainted a sizable chunk of their material. After Cronos left the band, Mantas and Abaddon met a dude named Tony Dolan; they finished this lineup with some additional musicians and produced three amazing albums, perhaps the most underrated and ignored items ever conceived by a first-rate faction.
It's very important to understand the history of what would eventually become Mpire of Evil in order to grasp the awesomeness of "Hell to the Holy." As you see, I'm VERY enthusiastic about Mantas and Dolan working together; one of the first CDs I ever loved was "Temples of Ice," still one of my favorites that sees a regular rotation. Mpire of Evil is a collaboration between the founding guitarist of Venom, Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan, and Antton Lant (hold the irony, please) banging on 'dem drums, at least for this album anyway; he left shortly after it was recorded. Venom is one of the most important metal bands ever, and it's really impossible to review this without having at least a little background about how this lineup came to fruition. Is “Hell to the Holy” a continuation of Dolan-era Venom, or even Venom in general? Yes and no. I mean, there are some staggering similarities that crucially define core qualities of the project shared by both groups, but you know what? The songwriting and musical themes are so advanced and vehemently gripping that it’s really an explosion of freshness often unseen in newcomers and old farts alike. Without getting too bloated, this absolutely rules.
"Hell to the Holy" isn't a musical continuation of the advanced songwriting on "The Wastelands"; it more or less reminds me of some gritty thrash occasionally flashing a nod to a lot of traditional/speed metal bands like Motörhead or Judas Priest. Although I hate to say it, Mpire of Evil kind of sounds like a proper continuation of Venom. That's the elephant in the room, but it's true. The tracks are graciously crude, raw, meaty, and fun, but the Mpire also provides a lot of compositional perks that successfully add layers of drama to most of the album, especially the mid-paced numbers like the title track. Even some thrash cuts that would otherwise look a little lacking are vastly improved with the use of Mantas' extravagant lead guitar or the daring songwriting, which never runs out of electricity. Overall, it's a monumental progression from where Dolan-era Venom left off. And speaking of Dolan, his gruff vocals are perfect for this kind of material, pretty much on par with his other vocal performances.
More importantly, the songs kick total ass, as if Mantas, Dolan, and Antton all sat down and mutually agreed to construct killer riffs and classic anthems without screwing up the anticipation. The album's beginning tunes are pretty much thrash-inspired numbers that overload on fantastic riffs, beats, solos, vocals, choruses and the rest of the essentials reaching critical mass. "Metal Messiah" features a really unpredictable and stellar solo by Mantas which shows his ability as a guitarist goes beyond basic sequences and grooves above the musical mayhem contributed by Mpire of Evil. "Snake Pit" is one of those lighthearted rockers stuffed with Venom clichés rerouted to relevant territory through the use of nasty heavy metal and goofy (in a good way) lyrics touching on alcohol, sex, and metal; it's a blast every time I hear it.
They boldly stride through a slice of tracks that occupy a traditional metal angle compared to most of the remaining album which are equally impressive and enjoyable. The slimy mid-paced riffs throughout "All Hail" keep the tune on par with the Mpire's other offerings, and "Devil" practices a stellar mixture of gritty instrumentation blended into a traditional/southern metal blueprint which simply slays; both are fantastic rockers working addictive choruses and some of the most varied songwriting this lineup has ever produced. Hell, Mpire of Evil even goes further down the route of the unexpected when they reach "The 8th Gate," a monolithic eight-minute piece gushing sadistic grooves and sheer excellence that the trio of damnation has personified and mastered throughout this sensational full-length debut. Not a single moment turns dull or even remotely questionable. What more can you ask for, honestly?
You'll hear a lot of comparative judgments to Venom because of the Mpire's lineup, but there really isn't a contest; one continues to drag its reputation in the mud with recycled traits while the other has accomplished a healthy return, full of life and giving the blackened blessing of longevity a new tint of darkness. "Hell to the Holy" is a very admirable product from one of the most underrated lineups ever to grace the realm of heavy metal through its swarm of demonic tenors and retching violence, biting and twisting like that old dog your scary neighbor owns that just won't let nature take its body back into the earth. I'd definitely check this out if you enjoyed Dolan-era Venom or just want something full of trashy mayhem and energizing malevolence. Lucifer’s exile from heaven eventually made him proud, knowing Mpire of Evil will always be at his left hand.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com