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Very often one of the major selling points of a début album’s reputation is the band members’ previous history, especially when said members were involved in a band that gave name to an entire genre. Mpire Of Evil is the result of taking three ex-Venom members from different eras and bringing them together “free of ego”, according to their bio, for a long-awaited début entitled Hell To The Holy. Ignoring the legal wrangling that resulted in this acronymic name (originally called Prime Evil, then sued due to already existing band, hence prime - mpire), Mpire Of Evil have dispensed entirely with black metal and instead pushed forward a blend of oldschool heavy and Teutonic thrash metal. Those who heard Mpire Of Evil’s EP Creatures Of The Black (covers of Motörhead, Judas Priest, AC/DC and KISS present) should get a rough idea of the influences, although other parts emerge within the course of the 51-minute runtime.
“Hellspawn” doesn’t beat about the bush as it launches into no-nonsense thrash of the German variety, somewhere between Accept and Destruction. The track is driven by Mantas’ guitar work, backed up by Antton on drums (since departed), and it boasts a strong headbang-inducing kick to it, especially in the chorus, along with a solo that could’ve come straight from Painkiller. “Metal Messiah” properly introduces Demolition Man on bass, who also provides the rough-n-ready vocals on each song. A bit later on, “Waking Up Dead” (Megadeth anyone?) awakens his ‘inner Lemmy’, while other tracks sound more akin to Destruction’s Schmier.
In terms of musicianship, the album comes off strongly, particularly in the riff and solo department, for which Mantas is to be lauded. The bass makes itself heard on several occasions, and the drumming is solid if rarely pushing the boundaries. Some tracks are quite catchy, and a few riffs stick in my head after spinning it. Certainly the most interesting track is the blues-thrash homage to Robert Johnson (who sold his soul to the devil), complete with a slide guitar lead. The other entertaining track is the penultimate “The 8th Gate”, which injects some Sabbathian doom and shred into the formula.
Sadly however, there are numerous pointers against this album that spoil my full enjoyment. Firstly, and it may just be my copy, the album production sounds remarkably flat, particularly with the rhythm guitar, and I can’t help but think this would’ve been a lot more kick-ass with tighter production. Secondly, the ecclesiastical sample that Mpire Of Evil utilize to open the title track takes up a quarter of the track’s 6 1/2 min length without contributing much. Thirdly, not all of the songs forge their own identity, so “All Hail” and “Shockwave” pass by relatively unnoticed. Finally, the lyrics on many of the tracks seem either remarkably forced (“Southern Comfort likes a spin, whiskey and a little gin, it’s time to let me in, down in the snake pit”) or redundant when repeated (“You want to do it, so come on, come on”).
In closing, for a line-up which has received as much hype as Mpire Of Evil has, Hell To The Holy leaves a lot to be desired. It certainly has its heavy metal moments, but the overall feeling of rehashing trodden ground dampens the album’s spirit. For connoisseurs of thrashing heavy metal (or late-era Venom), the album may be worth a spin or two, but in general Hell To The Holy does very little for me.
Originally written for A Metal State Of Mind (ametalstateofmind.com)