hell_coverNope don’t get all excited those of you who like pantomime metal and bangs and explosions on stage, this is not the British NWOBHM Hell. It is a band like Amarok who they share this 2 track split album with who come from the USA and musically they could not be further removed from their better known namesakes. Both these groups play sludge, drone, doom and as you can guess due to the fact that they only have one song each on this disc, they don’t really do short numbers. Hell (5.5) are apparently from Salem Oregon rather than Salem Massachusetts so I am not sure if they are true Lords or not. They have however released quite a lot of work in the past and indeed after this split, including three numerological named cassette albums. Although one track, as a listen their offering is divided into three movements Deonte, Oblitus and Dolore. It ominously rumbles in with slow lumbering heavy as lead riffs and some background distortion faintly in the distance. It’s obvious nothing is going to happen fast and indeed it does not until sole practitioner of the project M.S.W. rasps in with blackened throat raping vocals, again slightly back in the mix from the instrumental squall. It becomes evident to me fairly quickly that this is sludge, doom by numbers, it is just going to plod on and offer nothing particularly more than we get in the first few minutes over its 18 minute duration. Yep it’s kind of musically watching paint dry and if you like this form of torture fair enough. I find this sort of thing does work much better in a live setting, perhaps through a good stereo on a thick slab of black wax it may also do wonders, you could certainly be entranced watching the disc spin round and dribble as the music plays but on MP3 it really struggles to work. The second part picks up the pace a little and some bonged out stoned vibes hit the melody with some discordance lingering in the backdrop but it still plods like a diplodocus on tranquilisers. The beard stroking grooves move into more highly venom spat vocals which you had forgotten about and there is plenty of contempt behind them and a real maudlin feel comes into the music as it goes into an end of the world sounding funeral mass towards conclusion. This is thankfully illuminated by some sorrow ridden strings which add much needed texture but I found them coming just that little too late for the track as a whole.

AmarokAmarok (7.5) have plenty of drive (pardon the pun) and an increase in volume does them no harm production wise here as the Californians stoke up their track V: Red Oak Wisdom. Perhaps this sounds better due to the fact that they are a full band with three of them providing vocals and two playing guitar. It instantly sounds more forceful and there is more to their track despite the fact that again its stodgy, heavy riff heavy and bristling with a fuzzy and repetitive sound. Vocals are higher in the mix and really quite forceful with higher pitched ones and lower guttural growls fleshing things out. The 20 minute track does a great job of drawing you in and does not feel like it is going to be anywhere near such an ordeal. Cymbals clash and are one of the overriding sounds here along with some really thick bass tones which no doubt really shake and quake out speakers when this is played live. We surprisingly fall into an acoustic part shortly before the midway point and then the magic really comes into play. As Hell did in the dying seconds Amarok add something different in the form of some neo-classical soothing strains which take things into a drifting, floating void that is similar to what I would expect from the likes of Amber Asylum or Subrosa. It works incredibly well and allows the track to really breathe (and the listener too).  After completely mesmerising naturally the track picks up things and booms forth for the final crunching segment and with hoary vocals and massive groves and slow drum pounds really thunders with might and precision.

So for me this was an interesting discovery of two bands but frankly the latter completely outclassed the first.

(Pete Woods)