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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.