You know that old axiom about not fixing what isn’t broken? Well, it’s a good one, of course, and usually true.
But not always.
Finnish doomsters Hooded Menace have never been broken, that much is certain. If you’d asked me about them anytime up ‘til now, I’d have told you the truth: They tick all the boxes for classic, high-quality death/doom, and every record has been some degree of good to great. Mainman Lasse Pyykko’s riffs are crushing, the melodies that he weaves amongst his earth-rumbling chords are first-rate. The tempos alternate between glacially paced crawl and a midtempo chunky drive, the two extremes like an avalanche and a steamroller. The whole of Hooded Menace’s doom was best described as cavernous – those riffs hung like stalactites, spotlighted in the flicker of some dying torch in a vast underground cathedral cave, the air around them filled with the damp and rank breath of the dead. To that end, Pyykko’s vocals were appropriately subterranean, a rumbling guttural from the depths of the underworld.
Ah, but apparently, in those vocals, there was room for improvement. Who knew?
Enter Ride For Revenge/Horse Latitudes drummer Harri Kuokkanen, now behind the mic for Ossuarium. Harri’s growl is much more a traditional death/doom sound, less inhuman guttural and more Nick Holmes despondent bite, and it’s perfect for a band that fits snugly in the space just after Lost Paradise and not too long before Gothic.
And just like that, what wasn’t broken is now fixed, stronger than before, an old favorite new and improved.
Of course, Ossuarium’s success is not entirely dependent upon the vocals. As on the four full-lengths prior, Pyykko has certainly brought the riffs, and collectively, the songs around them are the strongest of Hooded Menace’s canon. From the ten-minute trudge of the staggering “Sempiternal Grotesqueries” onward, it’s clear that Ossuarium came here to kill. Like most Menace, “Sempiternal” crushes at a sloth’s pace, but then, when the band picks up midway through, it’s to a swaggering swinging gait so heavy and powerful that, if properly channeled, it could likely level city blocks, its destructive force broken by a brief interlude of dancing intertwined leads. Serving as a break in the slow-crashing, soul-crushing heaviness around it, the ascending single-note riff of “Cascade Of Ashes” is that combination of unflinchingly epic and yet so perfectly melancholic that it would make both Greg Mackintosh and Leif Edling smile through their tears.
If there’s any meager criticism to be leveled toward Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed – and there’s very little criticism that can be, I assure you – it’s twofold. The first is that Harri’s more traditional growl pushes them even further towards the hallowed ground of their tragic idols. Still, Hooded Menace has never been a particularly original effort in scope – they’re an homage to the happiest days of Peaceville 3 misery, and in moving them closer to their inspiration, Ossuarium actually shows how truly accomplished they are at mastering that sound. And the second is that their reliance upon breaking the songs down to a single note doom riff at some point during almost every track borders on formula, but then again, what is Hooded Menace if not a well-crafted exercise in formula? This is the Form of death/doom brought to reality, the perfect distillation of the very definition.
All pseudo-philosophical malarkey aside, Hooded Menace has always been a damned good band, and now they’re a damned better band, who also just happened to release the best album of their career so far…
Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed is much more than a menace – it’s a monster.