Australia’s awkwardly possessive Hobbs’ Angel Of Death is one of those bands that I’ve heard about for ages, dating most of the way back to my entry to metal fandom nearly thirty years ago, it seems. But it’s also a band that I must concede that I’ve never really spent any time listening to. Named after their founder and only constant member, Peter Hobbs, the Angel Of Death existed initially from 1987 to 1996, releasing one international album in 1988’s eponymous effort, and then an Australia-only follow-up in 1995. Strangely, neither album made its way to suburban Tennessee in the pre-internet age, so until this latest, their third full-length in their three decades, perhaps it’s not all that surprising that I hadn’t experienced their brand of thrash.
But hey, better late than never, right?
The answer there is a firm maybe, or rather, a definite “sort of.” Because, on the one hand, Hobbs’ Angel Of Death’s self-titled debut is a total blast of over-the-top metallic fun, and at least I finally got around to that. Taking influence from the then-exploding thrash scene, that one slots neatly between the chaos of Kreator and the tighter violence of Slayer, all speed and fury and riff and scream, crackling with unbridled energy and head-banging enthusiasm. (The band called its brand of metal “virgin metal,” allegedly because of its purity.)
But that one’s not the one that we’re here to talk about…
Having reformed for the third time some three years back, Hobbs and company bring us Heaven Bled now. A tighter affair than its elder brethren – purposefully modernized to fit the times, says Hobbs – Heaven Bled sacrifices the ramshackle chaotic glee of the debut for a more controlled attack, losing much of the fun in the process. Still, the basic formula is the same – Slayer thrash ramped up to death metal intensity. Tremolo-picked riffs balance against million-note-per-minute solos; chunky rhythm chords crash along atop rumbling sixteenth-note double-kick patterns; and through it all, Peter Hobbs snarls and shouts in a lower-range bark, his vocal ability not quite up to the improvements he’s attempting to force upon his band. Listening to him bellow something about a “whore’s dripping cunt” and “slime upon the earth” in the album-closing “Abomination” – or talk-shouting through the horror flick blackened melodies of the “serpents eating tails, sucking out blood” intro in “Walk My Path” – is more comic theater than it is anything else, and it’s likely intended as such, so your enjoyment of those moments depends upon your tolerance of metal’s inherent silliness and your willingness to embrace Hobbs’ version thereof.
But really, Heaven Bled’s ultimate weakness isn’t in any performance or in the production as much as it’s simply a very average batch of songs with a few high points. “Final Feast” rips out a nice couple of riffs that are almost trad-metal in their power-chord glory, while “Il Mostro di Firenze” (“The Monster Of Florence”) rides a great thrashing verse and then runs headlong into “Walk My Path” – that conjoined tandem the album’s opening number, and they’d likely stand as its best moments were “Walk My Path” shortened by at least a third, instead of dropping into an aimless half-time trudge and then rebounding into a closing and unnecessary guitar solo. After “Final Feast” and “Suicide,” which are both strong enough to at least entertain, Heaven Bled devolves into an overlong, under-developed modern thrash rut that exhibits all the trappings of the style without using any to particularly great effect. It comes; it goes; it sort of rocks; it’s gone.
By sacrificing the raw and roughshod barely-on-the-rails nature of the debut, Hobbs’ Angel Of Death lost their most defining characteristic. Without that element of youthful exuberance, this is just pretty average death/thrash devoid of any real identity. It’s not unlistenable; it’s acceptable in the moment, but it leaves little lasting impact.
Listen to the debut, and you can (sort of… definitely) leave this one alon