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Fistful of Malice - 83%

helvetekrieg, December 28th, 2006

Cruz del Sur Records is based in sunny Italy, home to temperate weather, exquisite cuisine, and so many power metal bands that an unsuspecting traveler might break his ankle stumbling over one. Such an overwhelmingly pleasant environment must be terribly nonconductive to grimness (ravishing or otherwise), no?

Imagine, then, my surprise upon receiving the latest offering from Cruz del Sur - Handful of Hate’s Gruesome Splendor. I wasn’t expecting much, as I’d never heard of the band before and the aforementioned Italian connection loomed large in my consciousness (which was not aided by the fact that the CD came in a package with two unabashedly OTT power metal releases). As soon as I sucked it up and sat down to listen to Gruesome Splendor, though, I knew that my preconceptions had been all wrong. This’ll teach me not to judge a book by its cover!

Corpsepainted black metal horde Handful of Hate are exactly what their name implies – an explosion of pure venom and dark malevolence, translated into an aural form. Their style of black metal hearkens back to the glory days of the genre; it’s fast, cold, unrelenting, and carries that intangible essence of evil that is so prevalent in good BM. Unlike most BM, however, Handful of Hate demonstrates a clear grasp of the importance of song-writing. Gruesome Splendor features a collection of nine memorable, distinct paeans to rage and violence that maintain their grim aesthetic while embracing melody and varying tempos. This album is an interesting listen, especially for those who seriously enjoy black metal in one of its more primal forms. Ildjarn, this ain’t, but it is suitably raw and hateful, and is well-enough conceived to please the elitists of the genre.

The production on this album was yet another surprise. Black metal as a genre is (in)famous for its dismal production values and fierce defense of “necro” recordings; unless you’re Emperor, a “too-clean” production job will have you branded as false and weak in a matter of minutes by the kvlt elite. Handful of Hate achieves that raw, dirty, “classic” sound, but manage to ensure that the instruments will be heard properly, and that the melodies will have room to peek through (for a reference point, look to 1349’s Hellfire). The guitars are still buzzy and the blastbeats are still punishing – you can just heard ‘em better.

Vocalist Nicola B. employs the standard black metal rasp, at times accompanied by cavernous background howls. The vocals are the only “weak” point of the album due to their generic nature, but fit the music well. This album will be on heavy rotation in my CD player, and is sure to please equally fans of Marduk, early Behemoth, 1349, Dark Funeral, and the like.