We all have those transcendent moments during our exploration of this genre where something manages to redefine the HEAVY part of heavy metal. Old dogs will cite interminable examples from the earliest days, as well they (we) should, but I don’t think anyone would argue that the game got particularly urgent in the very late 80s and early 90s. Here are five “redefining heavy” moments in my personal campaign that razed the foundation from 1987-1991:
1. A Scream Bloody Gore cassette in 1987.
2. First time hearing “Weak Flesh” by Godflesh in 1988.
3. Slowly We Rot and Severed Survival encountered on the same day in 1989.
4. Dark Recollections and Left Hand Path encountered on the same day in 1990.
5. The cataclysmic opening of Into the Grave and the whole of Forest of Equilibrium in 1991.
From that point forward there were a handful of other significant moments – Lysol in ’92, “Return Trip” in ’97, Jerusalem in ’98, to name a few – but if you were lucky enough to be alive and into metal during that stretch of approximately five years from around ’88 to ’92, the resulting desensitization has probably made it somewhat difficult for a band to breeze onto the grounds and blow you away with little else in the game-plan than attempting to cold boot “the next heaviest thing” program.
Hell gets it, though. The project is obscenely heavy – heavier than the 12” meatball parm’ from Lucifer’s Cosmic Subs sitting in God’s stomach at 2am – but sole architect M.S.W. has always demonstrated an awareness that heavy is just “everyday heavy” if you don’t properly trick out the rest of the ride. Luckily, Hell’s latest full-length, Hell, delivers the abundant, big, bulky, burdensome, considerable, cumbersome, elephantine, excessive, fat, hefty, huge, large, massive, substantial, unwieldy goods again, and it continues to convey the hefty message with gnarly song-crafting and just enough ornamentation to keep things…durable.
How to properly express the weight of this thing…
Imagine finally coming across a stretch of cool water to dunk your head into after dragging across a dessert and suddenly realizing it’s the termination point of a log flume ride for elephants. This record is the log, there are seven elephants along for the ride, and your big, dopey moon-face looked up just in time to see precisely two second’s worth of trumpeting trunks barreling through the foam before turning your head into a 500 yard drive off the tee and across the goddamn park.
Release date: 8/11/2017
Label: Sentient Ruin Laboratories and Lower Your Head
“Helmzmen” kicks off the show by quickly showcasing one of Hell’s prominent armaments: a big bass. A really big bass. The biggest bass in the biz, probably. A bass so big that M.S.W. probably uses a manhole cover for a pick. The bass at the onset of this song is as big and sassy as the Statue of Liberty finger-waving Godzilla rising from the sea. And then the vocals abruptly hooowwwwl and scrape like a badger in heat. Are there lyrics? Is he singing about the sinking of the Northern Belle, or is he just reading an eight page Verizon bill? Who the hell knows. And it doesn’t matter, really; Hell’s vocals are just another hellish instrument in Hell. Sometimes they’re low and hollow, other times they sound more like Hildof from Draugar and add a perfect bit of blackness to the overall equation. What in damnation is that noise he makes 3:30 into “SubOdin?” Sounds more like a warning shriek from a prehistoric bird than anything human, and it fits perfectly.
Wait… “Machitikos” is the heaviest moment in these fifty minutes, yes? Can anything be heavier than that start? Light cannot escape this song. If you want a soundtrack to The March of the Ents, this is your jam. Plus, the 180 degree turn toward speed that eventually gets laid down is wonderfully buzzy, but the bees still weigh approximately 200lbs each.
“Wandering Soul” and “Inscriptus” follow and offer up snuggly variations on the doomy, blackened, sludgy swagger – the prior with a particularly stoned strut, and the latter with a menacing density that could challenge the previously mentioned “Weak Flesh” – and the record closes out with 17 minutes of suffering that ushers in an elevated sense of comforting, resolving darkness; the 12-minute “Victus” is particularly beautiful in the way it blends acoustic guitar, cello and spells of trippiness before concluding on a notably sorrow-stricken note, and the terminating “Seelenos” abandons RIFF heaviness in favor of bulldozing by virtue of mellow gloom and elegant operatic vocals that accompany a recital of “I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain.”
I suppose a slightly modified adage such as “heavy is as heavy does” might be true to an extent, but it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing, and friend, Hell has that swing. This record is grim and freaky and funky and dirty and devilish and devastating and stoned without really being stoner, and it delivers brute poundage ten times more forceful than most of their heft-obsessed peers, thanks to a superior and genuinely more engaging design. In other words, Hell is necessary – heavier and more necessary in today’s world than Kong tea-bagging Mitch McConnell.