It’s like, how much more green could this album cover be, and the answer is “not much.” Not much more green. Also be hard-pressed to be much uglier, honestly…
But let’s not judge from the cover, eh?
West Of Hell comes from both the Southern hemisphere and the Great White North – they formed in Auckland, New Zealand as an instrumental outfit before relocating to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where they picked up former Zimmer’s Hole vocalist Chris Valagao. A decade after their initial formation, they’re bringing out Spiral Empire, and it’s a solid if somewhat derivative and decidedly overlong romp through the space where traditional metal intrudes upon the more melodic fringes of thrash.
Valagao’s voice dominates the proceedings – at times, he possesses a distinct Bruce Dickinson quality, offset by bouts of early Anselmo’s gravelly roar in the most thrashing moments and Mark Tornillo’s throat-ripping screech as punctuation. Guitarists Jordy Knott and Sean Parkinson kick out some solid riffs, both galloping and chugging, with enough melody to further state the trad-metal influence in all but the thrashiest sections. The guitar solos twist and dance, often further injecting melody into the tracks. Production-wise, the album sounds good – professional and tight, with enough polish to stick and not enough to slicken Spiral Empire to an power metal degree.
But there are flaws – one, though this is a fun listen and a good record by and large, nothing here is truly a must-hear; this is a well-executed combination of groovy thrash and melodic trad for those who would already enjoy such a thing. It simply is what it is. And, two, another thing that Spiral Empire is is this: It’s simply a bit too long. Some of these tracks press on for a minute or so beyond what’s necessary, repeating a chorus, rehashing a riff. A little bit of editing in many places would’ve made this Empire stronger. Three of ten tracks clock in at over six minutes, and a further three come in at over five, and the whole disc is nearly 53 minutes long, and the whole thing would’ve been better with five to ten minutes trimmed. (I suppose that, when it takes you a decade to make a record, it’s hard to resist the urge to cram in every idea you’ve got.) Opening track “Father Of Lies” is a grand example – it’s a rocking track with some great riffs and a solid melodic structure, but it overstays its welcome by about one-third of its six minutes. By the time the song feels like it’s ending (and at the time when it should end), it repeats another few choruses for a full one-and-a-half minutes. By comparison, the groove-thrash swagger of “Demon Sent” clocks in at 4:30 and “Faceless The Droids” pushes toward five minutes, but neither grows stale.
There’s room for improvement, but Spiral Empire does show promise, and by sidestepping well into traditional climes, it certainly manages to overcome the “oh, dear God, not another fourth-tier retro-thrash album” shudder that will inevitably greet initial viewings of its horrific album art. Given a bit of streamlining and a shorter-than-ten-years preparation time for LP2, West Of Hell could carve for themselves a nice little spot at the intersection of straight-ahead metal and melodic thrashing, and that crossroads certainly marks a fun place to hang around.