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).