Review Summary: A smoother road to the land of black metal.
I’m relatively new to metal. Guitar Hero 3 came out in 2007 when I was 11 years old and introduced me to GNR and Metallica. Appetite for Destruction was the first album I ever loved. I went down that sort of road - Motley Crue, KISS, and eventually up into Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood, which were basically all I listened to for about 18 months. I remember thinking at that time, and as recently as a year ago, that there were certain things I’d never get into. Death, Doom, Black, Grind, and most of the extreme corners of metal seemed like these far away, unattainable tastes that I’d never learn to grasp. After my year and a half in the life of (only listening to) Metallica, I slowly familiarized myself with more extreme bands. Pretty soon, it was Trivium, Converge, Carcass, In Flames, Every Time I Die, Entombed, Kvelertak and Opeth. But even after all of those bands were what I would label “favorites”, stuff like Emperor seemed like too much for me.
Hail Death is the perfect album for someone looking to get into the black metal pool with a floatie, instead of being thrown into the deep end with a shark.
Five of the nine tracks start with slow, single guitar passages, which gradually ease you into the meat of the songs. In the case of the first track, Still Reborn, the electric guitars fade in with a mid tempo riff, along with some double bass drumming. After a little bit, we get out first blastbeat. This is a trend throughout this album. The more extreme parts aren’t just shoved down our throats from the first second of each track. The band aid is taken off slowly each time, but unlike an actual band aid, this has the opposite effect. It doesn’t hurt - in fact, it makes the songs easier to digest and tolerate (as someone new to realm of black metal, I really appreciated this approach). Another positive consequence is that all of the songs feel more complete, and fully fleshed out. There is an abundance of genuinely great riffs and solos, but most of them don’t scream black metal at all. Many of them are more in the vein of traditional heavy metal and trash, with multi sectioned solos and in some areas, extensive wah pedal use. Nearly all of them certainly have a sinister and evil edge to them, but they aren’t very extreme in the context of the genre at large.
The vocals and lyrics are much more closely aligned with black metal than the rest of the band is, and that provides a nice contrast, particularly during the slower parts and breaks in the album. An interesting touch was the repeated use of cleaner gang vocals, which further helped enhance the songs and the album’s feel overall. It's nice to be able to shout along with the band once in a while.
This album mixes a lot of styles and ideas to great effect. An aspect that stood out to me was how the band was able to so skillfully change pace in a short span. A good example is in the second track, Redemption Through Blood. It slows all the way down at about 2:00, has a verse through about 3:10, and then transitions into what you think is going to be a slow guitar solo. The pace stays slow until about 3:50, when the drums furiously blast along with the wailing lead guitar for 20 seconds when at 4:10 we jump right back into a mid temp riff. It’s fantastic, and it happens multiple times on the album.
The songs are all somewhat long, but that said, none overstay their welcomes or ever feel like they’re dragging. My sole complaint about this album is the penultimate track “N”, which starts off promisingly enough, but doesn’t ever build to anything. The rest of the tracks are all great in one way or another. This is a journey of over an hour, but you won’t be tired at the end of it.