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The Japanese Gorguts? - 84%

robotiq, October 11th, 2021

The best place to start with Hellchild is with their debut album, "Where the Conflict Reaches". This is a stellar old school death metal record that sounds both familiar and alien. Hellchild pushed all the early 90s death metal buttons here; good riffs, good solos, complex arrangements, guttural vocals, etc. There was nothing generic about the result. The band created a niche that sounded distinct from any other death metal band. I wonder whether the band's location (Japan) made it easier for them to achieve this. They also hung out with punk/grind/hardcore bands (a strong scene in Japan), which may have influenced their attitude, if not their music.

This album edges towards the more melodic and progressive end of old school death metal. A good comparison might be the second Gorguts album (“The Erosion of Sanity”) which was released the same year. I've never been too bothered about that Gorguts album. Hellchild's efforts are an upgrade in every respect; more aggression, better song-writing, more melody. Hellchild had existed for six years at this point. They were excellent, experienced musicians, as tight and efficient as any death metal band of their era. Their star player was guitarist Eiichiro Suzuki. He had grown into a riff machine who could play solos that sounded more musical and soulful than most death metal guitarists. The drummer and bassist were great too, both played their role but enjoyed occasional moments of flair.

Special mention should be made of Tsukasa Harakawa's vocals; a solid death metal growl, nothing spectacular. The interesting part is the amount of utterances he makes. He growls and grunts over a greater proportion of the songs than the average death metal vocalist. This means there are fewer of those extended instrumental sections that death metal tends to rely on (the opening of "Emptiness for Happiness" being a notable exception). It sounds odd but it works, improving the flow of the album as it rides through a constant three-quarter paced tempo. There are few riffs that 'dominate' the songs, but everything moves along and every transition is smooth. Comparisons could be made with Demilich in that regard. The croon/gurgle vocal at the end of "In the Concrete Space" lends further credence to this claim.

Standout songs and moments are difficult to identify. The album's strength is in its consistency and pacing. "Long and Stable Bridge" is a great opener. It has an awesome punk-based riff near the beginning that could be a tacit reminder of the band's associations with hardcore. The final song, "The Outsider", is older and had already appeared on the band's demos. It holds a rollicking thrash rhythm near the beginning, a tribute to the band’s thrashing roots. As a general rule, the band sound best when they venture into proggier, trippier dimensions. This album is progressive in a subtle way. The band don't telegraph their technicality with flashy time-changes.

These guys were just good musicians playing complex death metal with a crystal-clear production. There are enough positive aspects of "Where the Conflict Reaches" for it to qualify as a minor classic of old school death metal. Hellchild had the chops to distinguish them from the generic bands of the scene, and their execution was flawless. This isn’t the most memorable death metal album, but it is consistent and strong. This is a record for anyone who is seeking out the underrated old school death metal gems. If you like early Gorguts, maybe Demilich, then this record is mandatory.