September 13, 2017

Hell - Hell (2017)

By Matt Hinch. Think of all those bands you know that are “the definition of heavy”. Conan, Electric Wizard, Crowbar, Hymn, Monolord, etc. If Salem, Oregon’s Hell isn’t on that list, you need a new list. The one-man doom entity helmed by M.S.W.
By Matt Hinch.

Think of all those bands you know that are “the definition of heavy”. Conan, Electric Wizard, Crowbar, Hymn, Monolord, etc. If Salem, Oregon’s Hell isn’t on that list, you need a new list. The one-man doom entity helmed by M.S.W. (that has become a touring band!) digs deep to bring to the surface a heaviness that radiates from whatever listening device you’re using and draws the world, in all its darkness, closer and closer until you are forced to lower your head in praise. This is their first full-length, entitled Hell, since the trilogy of full-lengths (Hell, Hell II, Hell III) concluded in 2012, and the 2015 EP (also Hell) and it blows everything away with pure power, tone, and volume.

The anti-festivities begin with “Helmzmen”. It starts with the mayday call of the Northern Belle (sunk in the Gulf of Alaska in 2010) and that visual of a sinking ship represents well the feeling Hell gives the listener. (Not to mention a general world view.) It’s nautically heavy. Unfathomably so. As huge as the vastness of the oceans. It fills you with the sense of terrifying dread that comes from knowing there is no one to save you from certain death. Every note cracks the sternum and soils your soul with the sickness of impending doom. (Although only one of the four crew members perished.)

There’s a point where the track breaks into a rage of blackened swiftness, albeit brief and fleeting, before returning to bury the world in tone. Otherwise the track, like most others on the album, features vocals straight from the bowels of Hell itself. Chilling, churning doom slickened with varied paces from barely moving to a rolling gait that crushes all, continuously beats you down with monumental heaviness.

Similarities to aforementioned bands like Electric Wizard (“Machitikos”) and Conan (“Wandering Soul”) can be heard but they’re subtle and in my opinion more coincidental than intentional. M.S.W. doesn’t need to rip other bands off. “Machitikos” has a syrupy groove that evolves into an atmospheric display of darkness more evil that you should be comfortable with and a screaming solo over unstoppable rhythms that grip like a vice. “Wandering Soul” has that plodding battle doom feel with dominant riffs, more strange, chilling atmosphere, and build ups that always pay off. It only takes one heart-stopping note to make anything pay off on this album.

Sickening shrieks and gut wrenching growls meet with chants on “Inscriptus” as drone clashes with chunky riffs, plodding pace and noise to continually, with deliberately forceful notes, slowly break down any resistance.

“Victus” clocks in as the most epic track. As heavy as the rest, it sometimes feels like you can hear the amps struggling not to implode. The demonic vocals and doomed-out slog are still present but there’s an airy section more akin to say, Cascadian black metal (not necessarily Wolves in the Throne Room-esque but…). It lends an extra sense of contemplation at odds with heaviness. Any doubts that accompany this change are washed away on the sounds of gentle violin (Gina Eygenhuygen) and a lonesome guitar. It’s not loud or totally crushing but the contrast feels entirely natural and still plenty doomed. The violins still hang around when the tentative peace is broken by a piercing scream, bringing extra gravitas to the pounding riffs. The completeness of the track, and the journey it takes the listener on, is worth the price of admission on its own. The previously mentioned tracks as well as “SubOdin” and closer “Seelenos” with its spoken word samples (TED Talk on suicide) and gorgeous operatic vocals (courtesy of Karli McNutt) seem like added bonuses and more than welcome despite the feeling of utter defeat one often experiences throughout Hell.

Contrary to how some extreme doom can feel like an exercise in pure heaviness for the sake of it, Hell retains a strong sense of catchiness for lack of a better word. The riffs fester like an untreated wound and unexpectedly burst through your mind with a force as bloodily striking as the album’s frightful cover.

Hell is skin-crawlingly outstanding. M.S.W. has crafted what could easily be considered an instant doom classic. It took a few years but one listen is enough to convince doom fans that the wait was more than worth it as the album will not fade over time. As superb as it is mind-numbingly heavy, Hell invites you below to wallow in darkness, despair and excruciating doom.

  1. Good stuff. I have been delving into their back catalog all week, and am liking what I hear.

    1. It's all really good, especially the longer songs of his. Both "Mourn" and "Decedere" from III are amazing pieces of work.