Monday, September 17, 2012

Hellwell’s Beyond The Boundaries of Sin review

Hellwell is a new band formed by Heavy Metal Legend Mark Shelton, member of the mighty Manilla Road. And you’ll probably be reading all over the web and the magazines many comparisons between Manilla Road and Hellwell; the latter being presented as Manilla Road’s “evil twin”.

That statement isn’t exactly aberrant, but it’s pretty unfair to Hellwell, since the band is not just about Mark Shelton developing some dark sort of Manilla Road.
Hellwell was actually named after E.C Hellwell, the band's bassist and keyboardist. The man is also a horror novelist, whose work has strongly inspired Mark Shelton for Manilla Road. The Acheronomicon Suite that closes this album was also originally one of his short stories that Shelton has adapted. The guy has also co-written most of the songs, and therefore Hellwell is pretty much his band too. Jonny Benson completes the line up on drums. 

Hellwell is also extremely important when it comes to the band’s sound; because although Shelton’s guitars are obviously super important, the fantastic organ and other keyboards often lead the dance and help creating a unique sound (at least a sound that is different from Manilla Road) that perfectly reflects the typical horror-movie atmosphere. Really, that’s what I appreciated the most when listening to Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin. Just listen to the opener “The Strange Case Of Dr Henry Howard Holmes” or the final "End Of Days" and you’ll immediately get my point!

But Hellwell being an important member of the band doesn’t mean that Shelton is invisible. His guitar-riffs are amazing, twisted, heavy and even a bit more violent that the stuff he plays in Manilla Road. He also managed to inject a huge dose of that epic feeling he masters so much. His solos are also as fantastic as they’ve always been, filled with feeling and intensity.
These two guys managed to perfectly mix their talents and create something really interesting and original here. That record should have been one this year’s highlights; especially now that everybody’s so crazy about dark Heavy Metal.

I’m guessing you’re wondering why it should have been a highlight. The thing is, this record has an unbelievably bad sound. Mark Shelton handled the production, and just like on Manilla Road’s last record, Playground Of The Damned, the sound is extremely muffled, with triggered drums and VERY dirty guitars. I understand they wanted a nasty and organic sound, but they ended up totally killing the power and the impact of the songs.

One last word about Shelton’s vocals; which again, I think, are a little too extreme. He sort of screams/sings like a gargoyle but I really think more of the epic and “clean” vocals could have given more impact to the songs (the choruses are really awesome though).
All in all, this first Hellwell release is extremely interesting, and although Beyond The Boundaries Of Sin has some flaws, I really enjoyed playing it very loud, as each song overflows with top-notch musicality, Heavy Metal power and that typical epic feeling Mark Shelton masters so much. 
By the way, the final suite (the last three songs) called Acheronomicon is such a fantastic illustration of that; clearly the record’s top moment.
Fans of Epic Metal; there’s another Shadow Kingdom release you need to check out! (you can listen to the album and make up your own opinion right here).


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Vindicator – United We Fall review

I like Megadeth therefore I like Vindicator. That’s a pretty simplistic statement, but it’s also a very reliable one. If any of you guys are Megadeth fans, then you will most likely enjoy listening to Vindicator.
I got introduced to Vindicator when Heavy Artillery (great old-school label, dicoverer of Enforcer, Vektor and many other super talented bands, now part of Earache) sent me a promo for Antique Witcheries, the band’s second album out in 2010.
After that awesome record, the band just went under the radar (at least under my radar), and I found out almost by accident that they released their third full-length; United We Fall on Slaney Records earlier this year. And trust me; for less than 10 $/ (shipping included) you guys can acquire one hell of a thrash record. 
Original singer Marshall Law has quit the band, and the vocals are now handled by mastermind guitarist and composer Vic Stown. The guy hasn’t got THE voice, but he sure knows how to sing. Kind of like Mustaine -from you know what band- uses his vocals smartly. Vindicator also got reinforced by former White Wizzard guitarist James J.LaRue. By the way, White Wizzard already have one of the most impressive “former members list”: 12 past-members listed by Metal Archives, for a band that’s been active since 2007, I say BRAVO!

But let's get back to United We Fall as this record is made out exactly of the type of Thrash Metal I love: it’s rapid, sharp, violent, and aggressive, it’s got some killer riffs, awesome choruses and some outstanding solos. What else could you possibly need??? I’m a huge fan of that old-school Thrash, still close to it’s Heavy Metal and Punk-Rock roots. I mean, I can’t stand the “clinical” Thrash Metal bands, that just accumulate heavy riffs without that hysterical and "close to the edge" feeling. When I listen to Thrash, I want the music to screw with my mind, make me nervous, it has to make me want to go down the street and start a fight.
It also has to make me hate the way our society goes, and just protest over anything! If Thrash bands don’t do that, then who the hell would do it anyway??!!

"Bastards Of Noise And Agression", by Vindicator

And that is why this band reminds me of Megadeth, although musically there are some similarities as well. Just listen to “Nationwide Ruination”, or “Fatal Infection”, you’ll feel that you’re back in the late 80s, somewhere between Rust In Peace and Peace Sells. The similarities are sometimes so obvious that you can recognize some Hangar 18 solo parts here and there. 
Now I don’t need to tell you that there are a million other retro-Thrash bands out there, and some of them are signed on important record labels. They put out their records in fancy boxsets that include patches and wristbands, but when it comes to the music itself, believe me, these little “Bastards Of Noise And Aggression” (Third track, AWESOME song) are above average. I actually feel like mentioning each one of the songs, as they all have something special; like a super riff, a nice chorus, insane solos…

One of my favorite thrashers this year, a MANDATORY purchase of you like Thrash Metal!