Curse and Chapter’ is the follow up to Hell’s début album from 2011, a release that won accolade upon accolade, and for many was the metal album of the year. Now, in November 2013, Hell are following up with their second full length release. Not bad, some might say; two albums in under 3 years; pretty prolific, eh? Well, time for a lesson in metal history folks, a temporal journey that encompasses over three decades, and goes back to an age before mobile phones, MP3’s, near universal internet access, and when even I was slim of waist and long of hair!
In the early 80’s, there was a flurry of metal bands throughout the UK, the so called NWOBHM, that is so revered by so many. One of the greatest “should have been” bands of that era was Derbyshire spawned Hell, a four piece who were so far ahead of the rest of the curve in terms of technical ability, theatricality, and eloquence. Living not too far North in Manchester at the time, my teenage self managed to get hold of the occasional bootleg tape of Hell (imagine an illegal download folks, but one made of actual physical stuff that you had to go to a music fair and buy with money, you’ll get the idea), but I never got to see them live before they tragically imploded with the loss of original vocalist Dave Halliday.
Skip forward a couple of decades, and one of the many fans turned musicians inspired by the band, uber producer and Sabbat guitarist extraordinary, Andy Sneap, managed to bring together the remaining three original members, augmented by the guitarist’s brother David Bower on vocals, and thus was spawned ‘Human Remains’, a truly superlative album that resurrected and revitalised original songs into an excellent, modern album. Now, to follow up that release, the band has brought forth ‘Curse & Chapter’, a pretty much even split of re-imagined and revitalised material from back in the day and cutting edge new songs, the whole having been honed by a combination of experience, ability, and solid touring.
‘Gehennae Incendiis’ is a direct follow on to the closing bars of ‘Human Remains’, a massively theatrical intro to the album proper, ‘The Age of Nefarious’, a track that blasts out with a combination of the band’s signature musical complexity, the thesaurus devouring lyrics perfectly supported by screaming guitars and rock solid rhythm section, Hell’s typical topic of kicking back against oppressive organised religion infesting every line. The album takes an even darker turn with ‘The Disposer Supreme’, a lingering, theatrical song that allows every member of the band to display their ability, all the while promising a song that will surely take centre stage in their live repertoire, complex instrumental breaks offering opportunity aplenty for the audience to soak in the music whilst revelling in the band’s stage presence. ‘Darkhangel’ follows on, an epic seven minute piece which has so far been delivered live by David Bower stalking the stage as a stilt walking 12 foot tall horned Pan figure, wielding a flame throwing trident that had the amassed thousands strong main stage crowd at Bloodstock 2013 fixed in place and letting loose a collective “ooh” as the stream of fire burst forth. I don’t want to in any way belittle the excellence of the song, as it is well worth listening to in musical isolation, but for me it is now forever intrinsically entwined with the band’s stage show.
At no point does the album fail to be anything less then excellent, continuing to showcase the talents of the band; ‘Deathsquad’, an update of an original instrumental track from back in the day (get the digipack version of ‘Human Remains’ and you can hear the cleaned up, but not overly polished original) is a master class in atmospheric metal, whilst in a personal favourite highlight of the album ‘Deliver Us From Evil’, Tony Speakman opens the track with a faultless demonstration in how a bass should be played to grip the listener before it is augmented by the rest of the band.
Were I to keep throwing the superlatives I want to at this album, any reader would assume I was in thrall to some PR company, getting paid to produce a bloated puff piece. Let me assure you, that is not the case. What I am is somebody who has heard and appreciated the sheer musicianship of Hell, and am heartily impressed by the sound they have committed to album, a sound that they have proven time and again through live shows is not homage to the knob twiddling skill of some engineer, but a reflection of the band’s on stage ability. If you like metal, and I can only assume you do by the fact you are reading this site, ‘Curse & Chapter’ is a worthy addition to any music library.