[Artwork by Vrugarthdoom]
This album doesn’t waste a second of time, so let’s not waste any with this review. Slay In Hell, the sophomore album from Steel Bearing Hand, is pure, uncut heavy metal thunder of the highest order.
The band takes a mix of death, thrash, speed, and even doom and delivers everything with such skill, such aplomb, and such absolute zest for the material that you’d think they’re discovering their love of heavy metal anew every time they play a song. Countless bands aim to do justice to their heroes, of course, but Steel Bearing Hand has that extra special touch. They would not dare dishonor their influences with a lackluster effort, half baked songs, or coming up short in an area like personality (which, as always, goes a long way). These four guys from Dallas write and play with so much fire that you’d think they’d rather face execution by the steel of their band name than come up short in the eyes of [insert your chosen god of heavy metal here].
So now that the album’s quality and band’s internal flame have been established, let’s do waste some time with the finer details, of which there are oh so many.
Elsewhere, the album opts to go much more eeeeeeeeeeeeeeevil. Sometimes it’s through a little extra bit of death/thrash onslaught or a classic Celtic Frost gallop, but it’s most notably through a vocal shift. Vocalist/guitarist Wyatt Burton sometimes swaps out his higher harsh vocal style for a deep, dominating guttural that echoes and fills up the space without an overreliance on reverb. This approach adds a ton to “Tombspawn,” especially after a few minutes spent in a doom pace sets a malicious bombast before the tune blasts off and the voice joins in. (Setting the official over/under at 18 months before a band named “Tombspawn” gets signed to 20 Buck Spin.)
Nowhere does the band’s skill at all things slow make an impact more than on the behemoth closer “Ensanguined.” The tune spends much of its 12-plus minutes delivering gargantuanly heavy riffs either at a snail’s pace or an even slower tempo that makes Lost Paradise seem like the Rigor Mortis debut. It shares a bit with Asphyx’s barebones approach to ultra heavy doom/death, but also carries with it all the unique character Steel Bearing Hand had built on the album up to that point. And it’s wildly effective, as is the moment when the song finally kicks it into (extremely) high gear. Suddenly it seems intent on crumbling everything built by the doom material with blazing tremolo riffs, blast beats, dive bombs and other chaotic whammy action, and the most demonic vocals on the record. The band could have kept just playing really solid death/thrash ‒ their first full length doesn’t have near the tempo variety but is still quite fun ‒ but a track like “Ensanguined” shows that they have the skills to keep stretching things out to dazzling results.
Each song seems to go exactly where it needs to, typically through several ideas and riff patterns, all without being the slightest bit predictable. Still want more? How about the nutty blast beat / dying cat solo section and killer mid-tempo bridge (all hail the ride cymbal) in “Lich Gate,” or the tiniest touch of tech and gang vocals in “’Til Death and Beyond.” Or how the rhythm section is absolutely dynamite throughout the entire album, with new drummer (since 2017) “Anthony Vallejo” obviously helping the band take that next step and bassist Chris Bonner providing a very mobile, active low end. Then there’s the impeccable production, the greatest feature of which might be highlighting Bonner’s bass, but which also succeeds in enhancing all of Burton’s vocal stylings and the huge crunch of the guitars.
And so on and so forth across countless listens. The record ought to elicit a whole heap of reactions from metal fans ‒ the usual evil grins, headbangs, raised fists, and inspiration to dust off that Flying V ‒ but the word that keeps coming to mind is enthusiasm. Steel Bearing Hand probably has so much of it that it drives their friends insane, and the record is absolutely bursting with it. So too shall you be, quite likely, because this ace album is overflowing with so many of the reasons you got into heavy metal in the first place. Unsheathe your blade, warriors, and Slay In Hell.