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Teutonic heavy metal masters Paragon continue their dominance of the heavy/speed/power cross-section with Hell Beyond Hell, a caustic, landscape-razing affair that can deftly exchanges punches with the best in the field like Grave Digger, Iron Savior, Rebellion and a host of other well known names. Paragon's approach is focused more on bloodletting through attrition due to riff overload as opposed to relying on raw heaviness or triumphant melodic refrains like Grave Digger. This results in a perfect foil for the more traditional style, and the band's continued excellence speaks volumes toward the virility of this approach. Spiraling contours of punishment and ragged, harsh vocals define the approach on Hell Beyond Hell, a suitably-named exercise in German heavy metal every bit as good as the band's last opus Force of Destruction.
With refreshing frugality, Paragon cut the crap and go straight for the jugular with "Rising Forces," a dense, riff-packed affair that feels like one part Iron Savior and one part Painkiller worship. Regarding the former, the band features a similar gritty, overdriven guitar tone perfectly tailored for the speedier-picked sequences and appreciably opening up for the chunky chords. The more mid-paced title track features some of the best riffs on the album and dials up the sinewy grit alongside Babuschkin's distinctive sneer. Andreas' vocals are a unique case and sound like Chris Boltendahl if he sang while holding his nose. The multi-layered cleaner fare work just as well, generally hoarded for use during refrains and such.
Leads are carefully constructed and squeeze as much as possible out of the running time, but Paragon aren't strangers to some level of experimentation. "Devil's Waitingroom" is the requisite brooding, pseudo-ballad number with an expansive running time and outstanding harmonic verisimilitude. Even through these slower, more cerebral moments, the band keeps the heavy metal torch burning bright, as there are no shortages of high-caliber riffing progressions waiting around the corner, or just out of peripheral auditory view. The menacing morbidity of "Meat Train" is perhaps my personal favorite, shifting through the gears with dexterous flair and balancing muscle and speed as well as anything else on the record. Then of course we have the monstrous opening of "Stand Your Ground," delivering the now-familiar "raise your fist" tropes with aplomb.
Hell Beyond Hell is good, damn good. In fact, I would put this above the latest from Iron Savior and even Grave Digger. At an efficient eight tracks, the album feels like it has eschewed any extraneous fat and gets down and dirty without playing games. Those pining for more soaring, melodic vocals might find Andreas a hard sell, but those of us weaned on the band's former material will find this record every bit as good as what came before it, and it hardly feels like Paragon are going through the motions pursuant to an easy paycheck. A modern masterpiece? Well, maybe...