Hell - Curse and Chapter (Nuclear Blast)

An (evil) Curate's egg of an album...
Release Date: 
21 Nov 2013 - 11:30pm

After Hell’s triumphant return to the fray a couple of years ago after a quarter century in self-enforced musical purdah, with an album – the quite magnificent Human Remains – that just about rewrote the book for fans and practitioners of traditional heavy metal alike in the twenty first century, the future for this most diabolical of acts looked to be superficially rosy. Of course, HR was constructed largely from songs the band had forged in the fiery furnaces of lands south of heaven during their original mid eighties incarnation under the stewardship of late vocalist/guitarist Dave Halliday; The one possible thorn in the side of this band’s continued dark renaissance then might be an inability to come up with material of the same stellar quality found on …Remains, or at least an inability to keep the impish spirit that made those early, reactivated songs so special.

This time around we haven’t got three decades of rose-tinted memories of anthems like Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us making regular deposits in our goodwill accounts; Curse and Chapter is every inch the ‘difficult second album’ in excelsis, made even more difficult by the tide of feverish approbation for what came before. Has there been such an eagerly-awaited second effort from a band this century? Possibly not, but the moment atmospheric opener Gehennae Incendis opens matters up you’re willing the band to succeed, all bets are off and you just have to concern yourself with matters in hand. Opener The Age of Nefarious is good enough for starters, cheekily nicking it’s refrain from the Broadway Hit Hair’s timeless Aquarius, and featuring a suitably unhinged vocal from Dave Bower; So far so good, but The Disposer Supreme isn’t quite as memorabla as you’d like and it’s left to the staggering brilliance of Darkhangel to settle your nerves. Easily the equal of anything on the first album, Darkhangel is pure HM nirvana, equal parts hummable melody, crunching, galloping riffola and and with another compelling performance from Bower at the mic. This is what we were hoping for.

Harbinger of Death offers more pleasure, albeit in heavier, more straightforward form. Guitarists Andy Sneap and Kev Bower both shine here whether riffing or soloing, and the same could be said for next track End ov Days; Indeed the latter is once again the equal of anything that featured on Human Remains, leaving you, six tracks into to album, really feeling that the band is going to piull it off, ensuring a place in the highest echelons of the metal pantheon in the process.

End ov Days features some staggering vocals from Bower, who alone of the whole band really stakes his claim as most improved performer on Curse… His increased confidence seeps from every groove, and where once he may have slightly irritated with a certain shrillness in places, on this record he merely dominates each song, whether growling, barking dementedly or screaming in supreme King Diamond fashion – the man is a star, of that there is no doubt.

However the band then throw in instrumental Deathsquad and all that nicely-building momentum is dissipated. It’s not a bad track of course – it’s doubtful whether this band will ever commit an absolute stinker to wax – but it just doesn’t keep building things up in the way you’d like it to.

Something Wicked This Way Comes starts the rebuilding process well, getting back into the thick of things nicely,  whilst Faith Will Fall adds a touch of Judas Priest to the usual Maiden/Mercyful Fate mix but is largely unremarkable otherwise – is the album dribbling out with a whimper not a roar?

Not quite. Land of the Living Dead chugs things into action again before the excellent (and old) Deliver Us From Evil really gets the job done in fine style. Quite why this song was left off the last album, and only just creeps on to this one escapes me, but there you go. A twisted wicked piece of sermonising from Bower is backed up superbly by the rest of the band, it’s quintessential Hell, all class and an absolutely storming piece of heavy metal.

A Vespertine Legacy rounds thing out in suitably epic fashion, and then Curse and Chapter is done. In the cold light of day, it isn’t as good an album as Human Remains, but then again it wasn’t a quarter of a century in the making, so how could it have been?  However C and C is still a very fine, modern-sounding piece of ‘old’ heavy metal that deserves it’s place in your collection.