Monday, July 30, 2012

Hell - Hell II (2010)

Full Length, Eternal Warfare / Pesanta Urfolk
April, 2010

Genre: Sludge/Doom Metal
Region: USA

Oregon's Hell brings you something dark and towering with their second record. A layering of bleak sounds that evolves slowly with great care. It took me a while to get to this one and it's clear to me I've been missing out once again.

For me this feels like a big step up from their debut. It's far more refined without losing the raw, hideous textures and atmosphere they so easily manifest and yet moves into other territory too. A tragic and violently crushing tome which withers all it comes in contact with like acoustic gravity waves emitted from the core of Earth.

They come at you with four fierce and intimidating tracks, the shortest of which is just shy of 8 minutes and the longest is the opener clocking in at 20. This track "Gog" takes on a more drone-like form, slithering from trudging doom chords and feedback which barely move at all to ebbing noise and soundscapes that leave the listener feeling touched as if by some spectral molester.

It spreads out meticulously often with gaps of silence, rumbling distorted bass and sustained notes. Subtle dissonance is tasted from the down-tuned madness, and vocals range from a vile gurgle to unholy growls while the drums are paced so slow with some nice cymbal work. There's also some very haunting clean sections especially in the middle of "Gog" that are very reminiscent of Thou's sludgery in some ways, echoing and shining as the only light in their cavernous atmosphere; it's no wonder why they collaborated on their recent split. This is the most straight forward song on the record if you can believe it, breathing its hot and sour breath like a fallen titan that has collapsed on top of you — drawing it's final gasps as it drags you into it's crater-sized grave.

However if you're wondering this album is just nothing but plodding doom you'll be pleasantly surprised by the three tracks that follow. If it was, I would certainly have no problem with that; who doesn't like a good slow battering from that genre? What first seems like a simple formula slowly grows, crawls from it's hellish sludge shell and carefully pulls in with it's huge gravity elements of black metal and a slight folk tinge. By the end of the record you've almost completely parted ways with undulating sludge but have been so easily, comfortably pulled away that it feels natural.

You hear a little of the blackened influence near the 6 minute mark in "Gog", but if you made it out of that sludge slide alive you find that it's in "Ublilicus" and "Metnal" where we first get a more definite hint that all is not what meets the eye here. "Metnal" opens with a powerfull groove (seriously addicting) and is quickly accompanied by a nice slice of blackened tremolos, nodding towards the growth I mentioned before the vocals enter.

They do not rely on this brief injection and continue to crush with riff after riff of clawing doom before letting the melodic black influence creep back in. This gradual introduction of change is both very tasty and intriguing. When things become silent we hear subtle use of cold synths and cycling feedback, awash with sorrow when suddenly (near the two-thirds mark) we get a depressive acoustic melody which builds with intensity. A striking set of black metal riffs are pushed forward, and acoustic chords infect the doom again, accompanied by wavering synths. The distorted melancholic tones build and fall away until the black metal (akin to atmospheric bands such as Fell Voices or Ash Borer) forces its way into the fray; dismal and dark.

The bassy doom comes back momentarily, as do the frightening acrid rasps, feedback and eerie synths — and this process is continued before the jump is made to"Ubilicus": a track which takes those previous evolutionary steps and sets them aside momentarily (and only slightly) before the final throes of the album. At this point the record is starting to feel extremely cohesive, all elements coming forward to a stunning high. This is just fantastic writing  Yes, the creaking sludge makes a return with whirring noise behind it — the sound of souls being sucked down the cosmic drain. Punishing riffs abound here, straining bends and then the tremolo buzz reveals itself once again as war-like drumming emerges behind it. And in the final grasps of this track, a solitary bass riff leads us to a clean melodic doom section and opens up into the writhing blackened pits to close

The final song "Trucid" where it seems the blackened plague has swept their writing almost completely, the growth and blend of genres all comes to ahead here. Clean and mournful is the atmosphere that is quietly fomented, again rolling drums stay subdued for a time beneath this dark melody. Some time later the climb is beset with rising bass groans as we feel the song reaching a summit, and the clean section is smashed by a foul black metal riff from both bass and guitars; an air of triumph is met. And suddenly a bouncing doom section surfaces only to fade to a clean and acoustic journey.

How this album twists in and out of these moments never feels forced. It's quite an accomplishment, never over-dramatic or boring. We can get this sense once more at around the 8 minute mark a droning, depressive blackened riff cuts through alongside the harsh screams which evoke torturous pain — and again the switch is flipped to a stomping pace, doom slabs dive and feedback washes over everything. The final moments of "Trucid" bring back the cold, clean melody as the light sweeps and fades from the tomb of sludgy hate they've carved here in vinyl.

What a dark and epic trek through Hell this is. A surprisingly deep tunnel of sounds. This is definitely an overlooked doom gem well worth your support, especially if you love monstrosities like Thou. I bought this beast at the Gilead Media fest and it quickly sold out there. You fine readers can buy a copy in vinyl form from Pesanta Urfolk which comes with a download code and a spiral etching on the final side — it's limited so work fast if you want one. It was originally offered in cassette form but that has long since sold out.

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