domingo, 31 de março de 2013

HELL (UK) - Human Remains (CD, Nuclear Blast, 2011)

RATING: *****

I can't really think of many reunions that would be half as relevant and worthwhile than the resurrection of Hell - one of the most individualistic bands of the entire NWOBHM era, one of those (not that common, if true be told) cases of a group that actually were cruelly overlooked, that actually deserved way more attention than they managed to get the first time around. I guess most of you know a thing or two about Hell: a theatrical act formed by former Paralex and Race Against Time members that wrote a lot of heavy, complex compositions with macabre lyrical contents, recorded many demos (most of it in rehearsals) and released a solitary single in 1983, but never really fulfilled their promise in any albums of their own, as they surely should have. Hell broke loose from 1982 to 1986 and, after an unsucessful contract with Mausoleum and with several members losing heart towards the end of the band's existence, came to a tragic ending in early 1987, when guitarist and singer Dave Halliday (one of the main songwriters and very much the personification of the band's stage act) took his own life, a tragic event whose motivations are still slightly unclear to this day.

Hell was no more, but its malevolent legacy was never really forgotten. Their humble (even a bit ramshackle, to be honest) demos were highly regarded in the tape-trading community, and even a few bootlegs came out in vinyl format (or so they say, as I never actually saw one for sale), something to prove just how much of a legend Hell became on the underground Metal scene. It took over two decades until Andy Sneap (once a huge Hell fan, later a guitarist for Sabbat and a hugely successful Metal producer these days) got in touch again with Hell's guitarist / Keyboardist Kev Bower and convinced him to embark on a labour of love, recording and releasing the Hell album that the band's living legacy surely deserved.

The three remaining members of the original line-up - Kev Bower himself (G/K), Tony Speakman (B) and Tim Bowler (D) - were all recruited for this venture, whereas Andy Sneap assumed the second guitar and, after long search for a suitable substitute to Dave Halliday's unique vocals (even Sabbat/Skyclad's Martin Walkyer had his chance to no avail), Kev's brother David Bower (a gentleman already with a stable acting career and originally recruited only for a voiceover in "Plague and Fyre") would surprise everyone with his approach to Hell's music and became the dedicated singer of the revamped outfit. They recorded and released "Human Remains" in 2011 and, oh man, what a joy it was to add the 2-CD set (the bonus disc is filled with old demo recordings of all songs from the "proper" album) to my humble collection. And what a greater joy it was to give the record a few (that would duly become a lot of) spins.

Because "Human Remains" goes way beyond simple NWOBHM nostalgia, my friends - it actually kicks major ass. It's way more than a nice souvenir for old tape traders and loyal fans from the underground: it's a strong, intense record with excellent music from start to finish, one of the best debut albums I can think of for quite a while. And it's not only a nice album to bang your head to: it's easily one of the best CDs released from 2011 onwards from any band, in any branch of Heavy Metal. For those unfamiliar with Hell, the easiest comparision would undoubtedly be Mercyful Fate, although Hell's music is a tiny bit more atmospheric and experimental, with unpredictable song structures and (forgive me, I'm a Mercyful Fate fan too, but I have to be honest here) considerably better lyrics.

Listening to the old tapes from Hell was something of an exercise in imagination: I would constantly wonder what those songs would sound like if recorded with a more adequate budget, in a proper studio and with a careful production. Now I don't need to wonder anymore - I just put "Human Remains" on and it shows to everyone who would listen how compositions such as "On Earth As it is In Hell", "Blasphemy and the Master", "Macbeth" and "No Martyr's Cage" were actually a lot better than they already seemed to be. No album filler here, my friends. Believe me.

I'm sure that many people felt uncomfortable with the idea of anyone other than Dave Halliday singing all those old classic tunes of malignancy, but I sincerely think that no one else could do the trick better than David Bower did. His own theatrical talent is used to great effect, and though he may not be the most gifted singer in the world (something that Halliday himself wasn't too, and you know I'm right on that) he doesn't let anyone down in that department - being a vocalist in Hell was always more a case of performing rather than singing, if you know what I mean. The spoken interludes, the gruff choruses, the verses filled with pure scorn and evilness - everything is here, and everything works to great effect. The instrumental side of things is also faultless, and the whole listening experience is an intense, absorbing ride full of energy and atmosphere. No nostalgia here, I repeat: this is Heavy Metal of the highest standard, being as relevant today as it would have been back in the day. I suppose many of you already bought a copy of "Human Remains" by now, but if you didn't, be well advised to do so. If you are a Heavy Metal fan, I guess it's extremely unlikely that you won't enjoy the ride.

Every new show added to Hell's website is happy news for me: I'm sincerely happy to see these guys, after enduring such difficulties and having their collective talents completely ignored by record labels in the 80s, receiving a fair share of the success and adulation they surely deserve. For 2013, Hell is planning the release of a new album, that are probably being recorded at this very moment somewhere in England. There are still a few old songs left to be exhumed (I instantly remember "Dephts of Despair" and "The Disposer Supreme"), and I suppose some of these old pieces of music will be joined by a few new compositions to form another strong and memorable album. There will be a bonus DVD too, or so they say, and I really can't wait to have this one here, alongside "Human Remains" at a very noble place on my humble record collection.

(the demo recordings with Dave Halliday will be the subject of a later post - hope to be writing it in the near future!)

David Bower (V), Kev Bower (G/K/V), Andy Sneap (G), Tony Speakman (B), Tim Bowler (D)

01. Overture (Bower)
02. On Earth As it is In Hell (Bower, Speakman, Halliday)
03. Plague and Fyre (Halliday, Bower)
04. The Oppressors (Halliday, Short)
05. Blasphemy and the Master (Bower, Halliday)
06. Let Battle Commence (Bower, Halliday)
07. The Devil's Deadly Weapon (Bower, Bower)
08. The Quest (Halliday, Bower, Speakman, Bowler)
09. Macbeth (Halliday, Bower)
10. Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us (Halliday)
11. No Martyr's Cage (Bower, Halliday)

HELL - On Earth As it is In Hell (official video)

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

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