It’s no great secret that I’m a massive fan of resurrected and resurgent British heavy metal band Hell. Ever since I first saw the video for their comeback single On Earth As It Is In Hell I’ve been hooked… there are certainly not many other bands I’d fly all the way across Europe to see.
Hell’s slightly delayed (only by a couple of decades) debut, Human Remains, was one of the best albums I’ve heard, well, ever so the anticipation surrounding the follow-up took me right back to my younger days… I may not be queueing outside Ripping Records in Edinburgh on the day of release for my albums these days, but I certainly checked the Nuclear Blast promotional iPool on a regular basis after the release date was announced.
Curse and Chapter is an important album for the band. Human Remains was a collection of re-recordings of the original 80s demos, with the ghost of late frontman Dave Halliday evident in everything from the remastered recordings to the album artwork itself. While Curse And Chapter does contain some more reworkings from those early days it also gives us our first taste of new material, and it strikes me that the “old” material has been given a more drastic renovation than was the case on Human Remains. I’ll get to exactly why I think that is a bit later, but first…
Curse And Chapter starts, literally, where Human Remains left off. The “In a world devoid of divinity, only the human remains” quote that closes the debut opens proceedings here, linking the two works and leading into the orchestral strains of Gehennae Incendiis, classical strings and chanting choral voices setting the scene for what is to come…
The full on metal kicks in with lead single The Age Of Nefarious. When this first broke cover a few weeks back it demonstrated clearly that Hell were going to have no difficulties following up Human Remains… it just sounded a bit, well, epic. Not many other tracks that doff their cap to The 5th Dimension either.
The extended theatrical intros that featured on the likes of Save Us and Macbeth on the debut are largely absent from Curse And Chapter, which I think makes this an album which will have a broader appeal than its predecessor. Human Remains certainly grabbed the attention from the off but, if anything, Curse And Chapter is even more immediate, you just get swept along right from the very start.
Next up is a track that the band have featured on the live set, The Disposer Supreme and here the major development and evolution as a band from the debut is most apparent. I mentioned how the spirit of Dave Halliday permeated everything on Human Remains, well that extended to the performance of frontman David Bower. I think his unexpected elevation to fronting the band (and we all know the story of how it happened, don’t we), meant that on Human Remains he very much followed the template that had been laid down, like an actor following a script… doing it brilliantly but still playing a role.
Well take that novice frontman doing what he was told (Not my words, in an interview with the band guitarist Kev Bower described David’s initial stage directions as “stand there, do that”), and add in a year of festival performances in front of literally hundreds of thousands of people and things are very different. I said earlier that there was something that had changed in the church of Hell, well the difference is David’s performance. It’s almost as if he’s not playing the role of the frontman anymore, he IS the frontman and Curse And Chapter sees him let loose, letting rip and stamping his own dark distinctive mark on the whole thing.
Thematically the album draws on the usual mix of history, mythology and that red bloke with the horns. It’s never taken too seriously, but the intelligent songwriting that was a feature of the original material is here, so seamelessly dovetailed in that “old” and “new” sit side by side without it being immediately apparent which is which, not that it matters. As David Bower puts it, “Alongside some of our favorite themes of historical, political and religious persecution, intolerance and prejudice, you will find some good old fashioned myths and legends being invoked and reinterpreted in our own inimitable way. We also have some songs in which the listener will be implicitly invited to solve the clues contained in the lyrics in order to find the meaning of the stories for themselves. Being completely aware that many people interpret things in ways that writers do not expect as a matter of course, it seemed logical to take that idea a little further”
Quite frankly, there are very few bands who can deliver this sort of proper old school fist in the air, bang your head heavy metal. It’s just pure entertainment and if you liked Human Remains, then Curse And Chapter will be everything you hoped for and probably a lot more…
And if you didn’t, well you’re not welcome round these parts 🙂