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What does it take to record a perfect album? Torture Squad's Pandemonium tried to answer this question, but even if the riffs (3-5 per song) are amazing, the vocals are good and the bass is good and audible, the production lacks perfectness. Pandemonium is far from being terribly produced, and you can headbang to most of the songs live. However, I tend to look at it as a gateway album, the last step that Torture Squad took toward pure awesomeness.
Hellbound, however, is awesomeness in itself. In the five years gap that followed the release of Pandemonium, Vitor Rodrigues really improved as a death/thrash singer and lyricist, the band learned how to mix stuff correctly and the drums improved a lot. Not that the drums were bad at Pandemonium, but Torture Squad was unable to highlight Amilcar's drums properly and ended up with something that brimmed with potential yet couldn't be called excellent.
While the drums took a major step toward true complexity, Hellbound's riffs and pauses are just as complex as they used to be. Songs like "Beast Within" and "Chaos Corporation" use structures that are so complex that they tend to confuse you when you listen to them for the first time. 4-5 riffs per song is something common here, and even "The Fall of Man", which is probably the only song that I didn't like very much, has a well-made structure and doesn't overuse any riff.
The lyrics talk about virtually nothing. They talk about a world that is, at least partially, parallel to our one, while throwing metaphors about how sin took over the Holy Church, how chaotic a future war will be, and how bad our society is (Vitor actually said that during an interview). There is nothing very deep about the lyrics, but they are very well-structured, and you actually feel like you believe in everything Vitor Rodrigues is throwing at you. It is just like Nightwish's Stargazers: very good lyrics that don't talk about anything interesting at all.
The production is extremely clean, and the atmosphere dominates your mind as soon as the intro, MMXII, begins to play. The atmosphere blasts your mind into a very agitated state, which lasts until the acoustic track (The Four Winds) prepares you for the grand-finale. And what a grand finale it is.
"Hellbound" is probably the most death-oriented song that Torture Squad has produced since "The Unholy Spell". Running 7:47 minutes long, it is an epic, atmospheric masterpiece, and is the only one that seems to have lyrics that actually talk about interesting stuff. The song is about a crazed leader, which goes as far as he can in order to become more powerful. Although the image fits with many hated history figures, I felt like it fit better with Jack from "The Lord of The Flies".
Summarizing, this album is nearly perfect. It is one of the finest thrash albums around, and the only problems seem to be "Twilight For All Mankind", a masterpiece that unfortunately runs for way too much time, and "The Fall of Man", which doesn't have the same quality of the rest of the album. Some friends of mine complained that the production is way too clean, which is not ideal for a thrash album. But come on, good production doesn't make headbanging any worse.
If you played this at the same time as Krisiun's Southern Storm, the world would come to an end. If riffs could feed starving children, this would put Sally Struthers out of a job. There are enough riffs here to power a small country for weeks. Hold on while I invent a device that generates energy from headbanging...
Now that I'm a shoe-in for the Nobel Prize, back to the review! Honestly, this band would probably love the idea of running the world on metal. The lyrical themes here are intelligent and far reaching, ranging from topics of religion to corporations to global warming. All on one album. That's pretty ambitious and such things are touchy to pull off well in metal.
I wasn't quite sure at first how much I liked this. Had the riffs not been so awesome, I probably would've dismissed Hellbound as a watered down Pandemonium that was trying too hard to be socially conscious and "deep". But the riffs ARE awesome. This is fucking Torture Squad we're talking about here! If this music don't get your blood pumping then you are on the wrong website. The idea of hordes of thrash riffs mauling your face for 51 minutes should be enough reason for you to acquire this.
Really, all extreme metal walks the fine line of being laughable. Some vocals are so over the top and outrageous that they can be goofy. This is probably the strangest dichotomy of metal. It's either very silly or very serious. THIS is serious business here. Hellbound's vocals are so well performed that the lyrics become as powerful as they are on paper. Fantastic and rivaling the greatness of the riffing. Vocals seem to be a major linchpin in deciding whether you initially enjoy a new band or album. I find no faults with these, he uses a good range of higher pitched shrieks/yells and lots of thunderous, midranged growls.
Lyrics aside, the music itself is not incredibly ambitious or anything. This album just explodes with vicious riffing and frantic, powerful drumming. It's down to basics, no frills METAL. Torture Squad embodies all that is metal...especially on their previous LP, Pandemonium. I struggled to discern whether this is better than their previous effort. My conclusion was that it was almost as good, just different. In some ways it's even better. There is one main difference between them. The riffs are thrashier here and there are perhaps slightly less of them overall.
The album kicks off with a cool symphonic intro. That's right, symphonic. I imagine that many black metal bands would be jealous since it's so good! It's fairly short, lasting about two minutes and there is one more non-metal part -- a two minute acoustic interlude track called The Four Winds. The guitar solos are few on this album and the phrasing left me pretty cold most of the time. Fairly awkward but mercifully brief. However, the acoustic guitar on The Four Winds is absolutely fantastic! The main theme of it is a rather plaintive melody which I find quite moving. It's also tastefully short and leads to the final track, closing things out rather nicely. Sitars appear during a brief intro on the last track. I definitely didn't see that coming.
One of the songs even features some samples, lending it a cinematic flair. Main Behind the Mask deals with religion and begins with the sounds of footsteps echoing down a hall, followed by the creaking hinges of a door. A Catholic priest has come to give confession...tormented by his inner demons, he can no longer hold himself together! Father Joseph...you naughty priest, you. If the Pope has anything to do with it, I'm sure he'll be immediately shipped to Palm Beach, Florida for round two.
Anyway, I haven't said much about the other instruments yet. The drumming featured on Hellbound is a little restrained. It's certainly fast, but doesn't outpace the guitars or vocals. The beats change often enough to keep the percussion aspect of the music interesting. Inevitably, the guitar parts are so great that they overshadow the drumming. The whole time you'll be pretty distracted by the onslaught of ferocious riffs. The bass guitar is mostly absent, as usual. It seems to be reduced to more of a subharmonic rumble than anything else, bridging the guitars and drums as the instrument is meant to. Certainly adequate even if I can't hear most of the lines. When he does surface clearly in the mix he plays some pretty good riffs.
All in all, this band continues to amaze me. They are one of the greatest metal bands going right now and I look forward to hearing more material from them. Seeing them live is going on the list of "shit to do before I expire".
Let's be honest: most of the bands that belong to the current revival-movement of thrash are horrible. Having said that, I also acknowledge that it has brought forth great albums, who are without a doubt better than most of the '80s stuff (did I say that out loud?). One of them is Torture Squad, who top their (much acclaimed) 2003 album "Pandemonium" with this effort. Now of course these guys don't really belong to the retro-thrash movement because a) they were formed in 1990 and b) most of their music is closer to death metal. However, my point remains: this is a whole lot better than most of the retro-garbage and definitely better than most of the '86-'92 bands who decided to jump on the thrash bandwagon.
If you like death/thrash, you'll most probably like this. Period. It has almost everything a good death/thrash album needs: skull crushing riffs, great vocals, heavy drums and yes, even catchy parts. The music contains more thrash than their "Pandemonium" album. Logically, death passages are less frequent, which might explain why I prefer this album more than its predecessor. Anyway, after a great, classical intro of about two minutes the first of many headbangable thrash riffs kicks in. The album keeps wrecking your neck until "Man Behind the Mask", which has a weird (but interesting) spoken intro. Power chords kick in while the voices are still talking, which has a really cool effect. All of a sudden an instrumental part kicks in and you can't help but bang your head again, until "Twilight for All Mankind" starts playing. On this track they tried something else than what they usually do: a great acoustic intro builds up the song.
Better than most acoustic passages that are found in thrash and just about the right length (I can't stand thrash bands who build up their songs for too long). The next song, "The Four Winds" is entirely acoustically, which is interesting but perhaps a bit too long. I'm not going to call it bad (because it isn't), but when I put on the album I skip this song because the main reason I listen to Torture Squad is because they make my head bang. The last song is the third of three songs which has acoustic music, this time with an eastern vibe in the intro.
Balance? A whole lot of banging your head and some cool acoustic passages to chill out. Most things about this album are great, save for a couple of flaws. Biggest problem are probably the solo's which aren't all that great. Most are too short and don't go above average. The riffs (which, in case I haven't mentioned before are awesome) are either reminiscent of thrash metal or death metal. Because of this, the riffage is quite varied and refreshing, though I wouldn't go as far that these are among the best metal riffs ever written.
The vocals are mostly brutal thrash or death metal styled and are interesting. I especially enjoyed the vocals on "Living for the Kill" (one of the best songs on the album). As far as the drumming goes I have no complaints either: complicated patterns who serve as an excellent backbone for the guitars. Mostly thrash metal inspired, but once again the influence of death metal is never far away. The bass seems somewhat silent during most of the album but on a number of parts the bass suddenly pops up with a great line, which leaves a bassist as myself satisfied.
To sum it all up: if you like brutal thrash or death/thrash you should check out this album. I personally enjoy it more than “Pandemonium”, though admittedly this isn’t perfect (hence my score). Leans more towards thrash metal than its predecessor, so if you abandoned Torture Squad because you don’t like death metal that much come back and give them another chance. Great Brazilian metal, better than most of the retro-crap and definitely among the best of 2008 releases. Here, they tried out some new concepts, which in my opinion worked out alright.