And here we go with the drama. By their own admission, Hellkeeper makes music “about wanting to live in a dream world because reality is too painful” (vocalist/lyricist Paul Butler). In that regard, many of his themes and lyrics are taken from equally horrifying hellscapes laid out by the likes of Shakespeare and Don Delillo. So, I’ll bite; if the idea is to escape the horrors of daily life and the dying, decaying planet we live on, why not create beautiful, shiny, atmospheric music? Why, I might ask, would your band create a crusty, apocalyptic nightmare of a landscape into which you retreat? These are questions I can only posit and cannot think of answering. Those are questions for the demented minds behind Hellkeeper’s 2017 debut full length.
A World Within Flesh is a brief affair. Clocking in at just over 26 minutes, the nine tracks shoot by with scab-like efficacy. Hellkeeper create tunes that will make your neighbors angry at you. Their blend of hardcore and punk, resulting in what is a pretty much a straight up death metal record (Think Abyss’ Heretical Anatomy). Crunching guitars, breakdowns and esophageally unhealthy vocals make A World Without Flesh a serious banger of a record. It is, at times, simply monstrous. We’re talking a solid wall of guitars with drums hammering away and vocals that engulf both of your shitty laptop speakers.
But for all its brevity, the album provides diversity and more than a few shocking moments of clean vocals. There’s even moments like that on “Quietus” that reveal a respect for late 90s screamo and the more avant garde hardcore of west coast bands like Wreck and Reference. Embittered vocals dominate the middle of the track as drums hang open and airy, guitars clanging quietly before the track dissolves into something that would have been at home on early 2000s Hydra Head.
There are also moments that hit you from out of left field. For example, the track “Threadbare,” which features almost a hefty amount of clean vocals. It’s a bold move for a not yet established band to throw something like this on their debut LP that is 98% crusty, blackened hardcore. You’re not going to find clean vocals on an Iskra album (for example). Although seemingly out of place, “Threadbare” somehow works as an isolated track helping to break up the rote monotony of full-bore hardcore vocals.
Bold experimentation aside, the opening track, “Obscure,” should be enough to hook most listeners. Here, the band pulls zero punches opening with heavy, chugging riffs and more classically heavy metal guitar harmonies. The heart of the track shows upbeat hardcore with a near d-beat approach to rhythms. Elsewhere, tracks like “Henbane” reveal a more truly blackened influence with pacing closer to a blast than sped up punk. Although the variances may seem minor, they are more apparent when heard in context. Which is certainly welcome within the genre.
It’s not entirely clear if Shakespeare and Delillo would approve of, let alone live in, the world that Hellkeeper is creating with A World Within Flesh. What is clear is that if you’re a fan of hardcore, or you were a fan of hardcore and it’s surrounding sub-genres around the turn of the millennium, Hellkeeper is going to fill you full of nostalgic warmness potentially causing you to windmill crazily while holding a folding chair. Please warn all in the area of your actions before windmilling.