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A Funeral Inside Your Brain - 90%

general tso witchcraft, May 27th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, LowerYourHead (Bandcamp)

Hell is a doom project by one man named M.S.W., from Salem Oregon, who has been steadily releasing DIY doom metal for the past decade. This release has caught the ears of a wider audience, thanks in part to favorable reviews and its placement on many metal top-ten lists.

Hell sets itself apart from other doom acts through its achievement of a raw sound best exemplified by MSW’s vocal delivery. Although flayed by his voice throughout the album, the listener will have little clue what MSW’s speaking voice sounds like, or his what his tortured word choice includes. Instead, the heavily processed vocals are integrated like an instrument similarly to underground noise performers or cvlt black metal. MSW gnashes, wails and shrieks throughout. At choice moments, the distortion blows the vocals so wide they become a windstorm wreaking an elemental havoc.

First track Helmzmen summons the woozy doom of Come My Fanatics era Wizard with its suffocating atmosphere and a faint whiff of unstable funk. Follow-up SubOdin presents a Sabbathian dirge before the track plunges into a rush of textured sludge: fearful yet exhilarating, like running headlong into a dark forest.

Elsewhere, Hell keeps its 50 minutes engaging by adjusting the pressure of its gravitas to allow space for a variety of surprising ideas. Take Machitikos, which opens with a bad trip of guitar drone before launching unexpectedly into an upbeat, midtempo vamp. The track crowdsurfs its way out with scorching guitar work that recalls a Matt Pike outtake. In Wandering Soul, furious riffs stomp while abstruse vocal samples float in and out of a blaze of caustic fuzz.

However, no moments on Hell are as disarming as those found on the final tracks. Victus is the longest and most notable piece. It traverses different colored chambers of slow and heavy, including death doom and a passage of screeching, processed feedback, before it releases its distortion and replaces it with a few earnest minutes of plaintive cello.

The Hell project has always used for its album covers images inspired by Gustave Dore’s iconic illustrations for Dante’s Inferno. And in those sad, quiet moments of Victus, as well as digital version closer Seelenos - which features a haunting Emily Dickinson poem - one remembers Dante’s adventure through the ninth sublayer of Christian Hell. There, Virgil reveals that Lucifer himself is not a fiery, lustful beast. Instead, Lucifer is a giant who oversees an icy chamber and who weeps eternally into a lake of tears. These final tracks remind us that at the genesis of rage lies the seed of sadness.

As Hell gains in popularity, it is easy to imagine that on future albums the post-rock exploration will increase even further. If so, it will be interesting to hear how this works in the project’s favor. If not integrated in moderation, this band might risk distraction - or, worse - self-parody. This album is special because its sonic concepts begin with rawness, yet there is still space within that framework for emotional sweeps and turns. Nowhere here does Hell reinvent doom, but it succeeds through skillful balance of its primary components: fury, patience, and, in the end, sorrow.

Fire and Brimstone - 90%

Thumbman, December 7th, 2017

If not an obvious name, Hell is an apt one for this one man sludge band. For Hell's eponymous album (honestly a little confused about this, as Hell seems to already have a self-titled album from back in 2009), MSW taps into the darkest corners of the human psyche like few can. His deranged sludge is backed up with shades of drone, industrial, black metal and even psychedelia. While this is certainly not one for the faint hearted, those wanting to explore the more twisted corners of the human mind will get a lot out of this.

Hell is easiest described as a sludge band, but I'm hard-pressed to find a sludge band that really sounds comparable. Besides being the most deranged sludge-related project this side of Lord Mantis, Hell are one of the most original bands I've heard in a while. Hell's got a goldmine of massive bulldozer riffs, backed up with a towering bass that lumbers slowly but surely like a tank traversing uneven terrain. Although the band rarely erupts into full blown black metal onslaughts, there's a strong blackened flavour, with the hellish (fight me) "SubOdin" being a prime example. The drums here are fairly loose but they go well with the sound. Besides your snail pace crash-heavy plods, we get some pretty cool tom-tom patterns. As for the vocals, we're in for a doozy. I guess they're most comparable to a black metal rasp but that isn't even scratching the surface. You know how in Lord Mantis's Pervertor Charlie's vocals are impossibly unhinged and depraved, coming off like a drug addict in the midst of a violent overdose? That's a good starting point, but MSW's deranged shrieks don't even sound human. The guy sounds like he's seen some shit. More than anyone should have to witness in one lifetime.

There's a surprising amount of stoner influence, but this isn't the friendly Sabbath-lite fare that bounces along without a care in the world. No, Hell sucks every ounce of life out of the stoner riff, leaving only carbon in its wake. Hell evokes subtle psychedelia every now and again, with "Machitikos" taking the spitfire psychedelic blues you'd expect from Hendrix and running it through the meat grinder, leaving us with a twisted and delightfully fucked up interpretation. For the last two songs of the album, Hell plays more overtly with atmosphere. While "Victus" spews forth a fair amount of soul-incinerating sludge, it has this amazing minimalist post-rock section in the middle with some of the most bittersweet strings you'll ever here. Album-closing "Seelenlos" is not far removed from that section, this time featuring exceptionally beautiful female vocals. The mournful post-apocalyptic vibe for these parts reminds of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's F#A#∞.

If there's one album Hell reminds me of most, it actually has fuck all to do with sludge. The intent here is essentially the same as The Ruins of Beverast's Unlock the Shrine. Both are singular manifestations of psychological pain that could only be brought to fruition by a single mind. Both use samples to enhance the unsettling and lurid exploration of psychological pain. For example, one sample used relates to the US Military using experimental psychological warfare techniques against the Viet Cong. Like Unlock the Shrine, Hell is a harrowing experimental exploration of the darkest crevasses of the mind.

Hell is some of the most deranged and unique sludge to come out in a long while. It's the sort of twisted and unique psychological torture that can only be pried from one individual's peculiar mind. There's also something very war-like about this. Not anything related to glorious victories or whathaveyou, but the psychological implications of going through the extremes of human experience. It makes me think of WWI soldier in Verdun witnessing his comrades stumbling to their doom in flooded shell-craters poisoned by the lingering diphosgene. Hell surely won't be your companion to a pleasant evening, but it's a hell of a ride (pun 100% intended, fuck off).