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Four years, four albums for Sweden's Nostradameus. Hellbound saw the power metallers take a significant stylistic change, filtering in some thrash and even melo-death elements in the guitar work that took them away from their more magical beginnings. The Third Prophecy was an interesting and innovative record, but their fourth baby put Nostradameus up there with the big boys, and even though it's not their best album, it's their most accessible for the general metal crowd.
First things first, Freddy Persson sounds great here. His voice really grew in strength over the years, and with the darker and more aggressive riffage, his throaty style found a new plateau of deftness. The band got rid of the stuffy production they'd used on their last album and replaced it with a modern crunch and polish. Hellbound plays like a dream, and though it does get a bit too macho in places, this is still very much power metal. The choruses hark back to their earlier, Gamma Ray-influenced debut, but the riff work is quite tight, making songs like "Never Turning Back", "Cuts Like Blades", and the title track flay your senses. There's only really one bad tune here (the plodding "Fight"), and some are average but have good parts ("One Step Away", "Seven"), and then there are the real killer cuts such as "Your Betrayal" and the fast, skin-searing bitch that is "The Reaper's Image".
Power metal fans will lap this up, and those outside the genre might find it a useful window into a style they have overlooked. Not as cool as Words Of Nostradameus, but a good listen nonetheless.
Originally bashed out over at www.metalcrypt.com
Somewhere in the heat of power metal’s expansion in scope in 2003, Nostradameus made the decision to jump ship and take the road of self-reinvention. This path is pretty risky, especially when you’ve already established a winning formula and have 2 exceptional albums under your belt. Granted, much like Nocturnal Rites, this outfit had a fairly meager following compared to others who came out at the same time, thus having less people to potentially disappoint. And much like their Swedish comrades, they’ve opted to take a heavier, less epic road than before.
The parallels between “Hellbound” and NR’s “Afterlife” are pretty strong, and are not limited to a trimming back of the song lengths and the epic qualities of their old sound. There has been an introduction of some modern sounding vocal and instrumental effects to complement their sound, particularly on the opening track “Never Turning Back”. Freddy Persson’s vocal delivery has also become even more raunchy and throaty than before, as even in their epic period he wasn’t quite the squeaky clean variant of a power metal singer typified by Michael Kiske or Chris Bay. Occasionally he overshoots a little and almost sounds like a metalcore singer.
The overall focus of the songs have drifted away from the large sounding chorus and melodic approach and almost completely towards a riff based system that happens to occasionally use some melodic devices. They’ve also elected to down-tune to a level close to the Afterlife/Shadowland tuning, further ratcheting up the bottom end of the arrangement, while basically eradicating any keyboard presence from the entire mix (something which NR did not on any of their albums). They’ve also eliminated the ballads from their formula, and only occasionally introduce acoustic or clean guitar sounds in parts of still very heavy ended songs.
Unfortunately, this more stripped down approach has resulted in the band limiting themselves in their riff selection. Much of the idiomatic power metal leads have been cut out and we mostly get the single obligatory solo or a passing lead harmony that is extremely subdued and repetitive. The background vocals mostly mimic the lead voice line on a lower octave rather than trade melodies, and all of the epic chants are nowhere to be found. It’s a heavier arrangement, but it is also even more predictable than the old one and not quite as exciting.
Having said that, most of what is on here is pretty solid when all things are considered. Crushing speed metal blasters like “The Reaper’s Image” and “One Step Away” spare not one iota of bone crushing heaviness, and also are pretty easy to sing along with. Meanwhile, slower numbers like the title track and “Fight” throw a couple of brief acoustic sections to complement what is otherwise a ballsy shot of low ended, thudding metal. Occasionally a riff will pop up here and there that sounds quasi-metalcore, such as on “Cuts like Razors”, but these moments tend to be few and far between.
Although this is not quite the brilliant speed metal reinvention that Nocturnal Rites successfully pulled off in 2000, it is still a pretty solid mix of heavier modern thrash and power metal. If you like bands such as Heed and Sarissa (the latest album), this is a good addition to your collection. Fans of the first two Nostradameus albums will probably either not like this at all or only be lukewarm to it. Truth be told, I like the older sound better; it may have been closer to the power metal clichés of its day, but this doesn’t have the power and the staying power of their earlier works.