Originally written by Jordan Campbell
Hell Symphony and The Book are two pillars of the vast Root catalog. Originally released in 1991 and 1999, respectively, the albums are as stylistically disparate as they are unique. This makes it a bit odd–but wholeheartedly appreciated–for I Hate to release these particular discs in tandem, but they serve as an excellent text for the uninitiated.
Spawned in the zygote stages of black metal’s second wave, Hell Symphony is unique in that Root, from their isolated perch in the Czech Republic, were essentially free of the orbit (and ahead of the curve) of their upstart Scandinavian contemporaries. However, that’s not to say Hell Symphony isn’t a product of its time. Vocalist Big Boss–later to become the band’s true linchpin–ravages and raves with sadistic blackened wrath, and only sparingly does he toy with this soon-to-be-trademark baritone. Manic blastbeats and ultra-Satanic imagery propel the album (the tracklisting is a veritable laundry list of the Infernal Names), further strengthening the ebon pedigree. But truthfully, Hell Symphony is as much of a thrash record as it is anything. A rather militant and upright take on the genre, assuredly, with an absolutely massive amount of Beneath The Remains-era Sepultura and a smidge of Slayeristic atmosphere bleeding and soaking through.
A cool exhibition, this album–songs like “Asmodeus” simply can’t be fucked with–but one that will likely be best appreciated by existing fans. The live track addendum is of mixed value, ranging from the wicked (“Song For Satan”) to the wretched (“Leviathan”). Hell Symphony itself is a weird combination of trancendence and datedness, the latter trait largely a product of the ultra-dry production. While not a worthy point-of-entry for the uninitiated, it’s certainly speculative of the band’s off-kilter, atypical asprirations…aspiriations that had yet to fully flourish.
Truly, the band doesn’t reach its atypical apex for a few years. The Book–a sprawling, engaging epic–is the work of a band bursting with vitality. Morphing into a truly haunting entity, the band scales back their riff-based rigidity and puts a far greater onus on mood and evocation. The Book moves with a snarling lurch, breeding a dark and ethereal atmosphere that could be closest compared to Danzig‘s masterpiece, How The Gods Kill. But this far more mature, dynamic opus stands alone, iconic in it’s complexity. Big Boss becomes the centerpiece of the band’s appeal, pooling his madness into a maelstrom of introspection and overt theatrics. His delivery is unpredictable; he shifts from a haunting croon into an eyes-rolled-back Satanic opera at the flick of a switch. As if having a demented argument with himself in front of a horrified gallery, his masterful storytelling drives “The Curse–Durron” and “The Birth” down avenues that other bands simply cannot traverse.
Indeed, his phenomenal vocals would be for naught if if weren’t for guitarist Blackie’s ultra-versatile playing. No longer limited by the confines of thrash and proto-black metal, his emotive riffing runs the gamut of soulful heaviness: from the earliest Sabbathian dirges, to Cold War-era gothic rock, to earthy 1990’s grunge-swell. The two-part centerpiece “Corabeu” is a shining example of his phenomenal grip on the purest pulse. As the song fluidly shifts from the main riff to mercurial acoustics, then finally interweaves some wah-heavy soloing to bring the journey home, the rush is nearly overwhelming.