It would be fair to say that there was quite a lot of love back in 2011 for Hell‘s debut album, “Human Remains”. The story of one band defying the odds and returning to the metal fold after nigh on 30 years away from any kind of limelight, dragging with them an attitude that Lazarus would have doffed his proverbial cap at was, in some quarters, a fairy story that sent many a fan boy into paroxysms of delight.
The thing about “Human Remains” though, if we were just a tiny bit more honest with ourselves, is that it wasn’t the NWOBHM classic that those rheumy eyed fan boys would have had you believe. With perhaps the notable exception of the brilliant and scabrous ‘Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us’, “Human Remains” was a solid, but no game changing record. We were, in part, applauding their strength and general fortitude than we were the tunes. No matter: in the momentum that followed, the band’s core strengths of tenacity and hard work saw them craft themselves into one of the more impressive and dramatic heavy metal bands on the circuit. Redemption, then.
That hard work on the road has clearly had an alchemic effect on the band’s creative juices. Their second album, “Curse and Chapter” is a storming heavy metal record. There is a raging and dynamic confidence running through the entire record: where “Human Remains” sometimes ended up being less than the sum of its sulphuric parts, “Curse and Chapter” is the record that you secretly wanted them to have made in 2011. Well, here it is, kids, and it’s bloody terrific.
On “Human Remains”, everyone talked about the brush and polish that Andy Sneap had brought to the band. On “Curse and Chapter”, you’re under no illusion that is vocalist David Bower who has taken centre stage. He’s taken the theatricality in his voice that makes the Hell live show so absurdly entertaining and delivered a vocal performance that is part narrator, part ring master, all heavy metal madman. NWOBHM adherents will be able to detect influences of Byford, Halford et al but Bower has brought his own dramatis personae to bear in a positive, compelling and thoroughly engaging way.
What’s so good about this record is not just how well crafted and delivered these songs are (and they are, deliciously so), nor how full of life this album sounds (despite its often dark subject matter), it’s the sense you get that the band themselves know that they have crafted something really very good indeed. Just have a listen to the exuberance that drives the heart of ‘Darkhangel’ a seven minute track that feels like 90 seconds. If that doesn’t grab you, have a listen to the quality wordplay and wit that inhabits ‘The Age of Nefarious’, a song that outrageously steals the melody from 5th Dimension‘s ‘The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius’ and fashions it into something far more malevolent- the cheeky scamps. These are but two examples- I could easily have suggested ‘End Ov Days’, ‘Harbinger of Death’ or the closing ‘A Vespertine Legacy’. Plenty to choose from: it’s a bit of a feast, to be honest.
“Curse and Chapter” is still resolutely in love with the NWOBHM traditions of duelling guitars, florid lyricism and apocalyptic imagery- and long may they continue to be so. “Curse and Chapter” is the sound of a band finding their groove, their muse, their, if you please, Satanic Majesty.