Mpire of Evil is a super-group of sorts, composed of former Venom members, the most notable of which is Jeff “Mantas” Dunn, Venom’s founding guitarist, who has been off the metal radar since leaving that band over a decade ago. Filling out the trio are Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan — who did an admirable (if thankless) job fronting Venom during original bassist/vocalist Cronos’ absence in the late eighties and early nineties — and drummer Antton (Cronos’s brother), who manned the kit for Venom from 2000 to 2009. After a warm-up EP last year, Mpire of Evil is set to release its full-length debut, Hell to the Holy.
Regarding the band’s unusual name: The group was originally called Prime Evil, after the title of Dolan’s first album with Venom. However, the name was already in use by another band, so the trio scrambled some letters and re-christened itself Mpire of Evil. I still think the name is goofy, but understanding the logic behind it makes it a little more bearable.
Hell to the Holy kicks off in brutal fashion with “Hellspawn”, which features heavy thrash balanced with some chunkier, 90’s-styled riffing. Stylistically, the track is in line with the material from Mantas’s last album with Venom, 2000’s Resurrection. The bulk of the tracks on Hell to the Holy follow a similar pattern, though the ratio of groove to thrash varies from track to track, as does the quality.
“Metal Messiah” is a standout, featuring a hard-driving verse a-la Priest’s “Rapid Fire”, some flashy legato licks and an anthemic solo that boasts some of the best lead work of Mantas’s career. The only thing that mars this gem is a trite and rather clunky chorus, which is a plague that afflicts most of the album.
Two tracks on the album break from the formula somewhat: “Snake Pit” is a sort of light-hearted drunken, metal party anthem, though the music is still fairly hard-hitting. “Devil” is perhaps the album’s biggest departure, a sort of metallic re-working (in the loosest sense) of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads”, replete with slide guitar. Neither track is a rousing success, but at the least, they provide some variety.
Hell to the Holy is not a bad record; the band is tight, the production is punchy and Mantas turns in some particularly fine work. The problem is Mpire of Evil’s sound is at once dated and too modern. The band’s chunky thrash would have been timely a decade and a half ago, but at this juncture the style is bit stale. On the other hand, Mpire of Evil’s sound is too modern and polished to cash in on any sort of classic Venom nostalgia. Still, Mantas is a legend, at least to some, and it is good to hear that he can still crank out some metal, but Hell to the Holy is unlikely to make any waves outside of the hardcore Venom fan base.