February 13, 2014

Hell / Amarok - Split

Written by Matt Hinch.

Originally released last year on cassette, this split between Hell and Amarok was recently released on vinyl. Even more recently the split was finally made available on Bandcamp. And what a split it is.

In Christianity there is but one Hell. Buddhist tradition has three "Hell realms". In the Game of Thrones universe there are seven. And Metal Archives lists nine bands going by the name of Hell. Trying to figure out which one this was initially proved difficult. To save you the trouble, this Hell resides in Salem, OR and is the one-man project of M.S.W. This side of the split consists of three songs put together as one 18+ minute track. The first act, "Deonte" is pure, lo-fi, bowel-evacuating doom. Its earthquaking tone and lethargic pace are so entrancing you won't even notice your bong shaking off the table. I mean, it's tuned so low the journey down there feels like Dante's Inferno; the listener being dragged down to successfully agonizing depths. The scraping feedback buried in the mix is downright creepy. It sounds almost like a swingset in an abandoned park, swaying back and forth in desperate need of some oiling. It sounds like emptiness and innocence lost.

"Oblitus" has a bit more of that Electric Wizard vibe felt throughout. It's a little quicker in spots but still painfully slow. The guitars here serve a more atmospheric role behind the synced bass and drums pounding at the castle gate. There's a riff in there that absolutely destroys entire planets. It's the main riff but when it hits around the 7:55 mark, resistance caves in. "Oblitus" is an unstoppable mass that rolls triumphant into the track's third movement.

"Dolore"'s screeching feedback gives rise to another monstrous riff, punishing in its might and molasses thick pace. The continuous pounding drags the listener low, as M.S.W.'s anguished screams expound pain and emptiness (as they do on the other songs as well). Here "Dolore" takes a turn in a decidedly Pallbearer-ish direction. The focal point shifts from the disgusting bass to an ethereal atmosphere saturated with emotion. Violins and clean tones close out Hell's side of the split. The melancholic and naked feel of the track's end gives one the feeling that no matter how intimidating the beast is, deep down they still have feelings.

Chico, CA's Amarok handles the other side. The most immediate difference heard is that Amarok's production is much cleaner and definitely louder. One can also sense this is a full band as opposed to Hell's one-man stance. But the split makes sense as Amarok employ the funereal pace too. A sound and feel similar to Pallbearer can be heard here as well. Dual growling and blackened vocals play off each other, tossing the listener from great heights to subterranean lows. The track, "Red Oak Wisdom" displays the strength of a mighty oak indeed, as well as patience and age. Patience is needed as Amarok continue to drone on with hypnotic repetition. It's a monotony not all listeners may be able to endure. The middle section of this 20 minute opus bears melody punctuated by measured, thudding drums and delicate cymbal work. Words like stately, forsaken, hopeless and solitary come to mind. Distant blackened screams scrape at the edge of consciousness. One uplifting note gives a flicker of hope that fades in the blink of an eye into more despair. The tides slowly change giving rise to the return of Amarok's destructive force. The mind-numbing repetition continues with some vocal call and response tearing the listener apart between sky and earth. The rumbling doom gets run through with some melodious guitar as well but only briefly. As the marathon is completed the listener is driven deep, deep down and left utterly spent.

This split isn't easy to listen to and depending on preference one may enjoy one side much more than the other. The pairing is apt however as both outfits incorporate similar elements. Both use despondency and tone to their advantage and thrive on discomfort countered with ambience. Make no mistake, this is some heavy shit.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

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