Any album which starts in hell, the walls of the inferno closing in as harrowing screams abound, gets my vote from the off. Given that the band have named themselves From Hell, their intentions, of course, were largely clear from the outset, but the fact that they have given credence to their chosen moniker with such a brutal opening track is certainly laudable. A heavy metal super-group featuring the mighty Paul Bostaph (Slayer / Testament), Damien Sisson (Death Angel) and Steve Smyth (Nevermore/ Testament), From Hell play a wondrous range of heavy metal, each track designed to tell a story in the vein of King Diamond, with the result that ‘Ascent from hell’ is a masterclass in storytelling and dissecting the genre of heavy metal. Prepare for hell…
Opening with ‘standing at the mouth of hell’, a short, instrumental piece that breathes fire and brimstone, ‘the walking dead’ opens the album proper with a furious and toxic blast of primal death metal. The guitars scream and burn, the vocals are ground out through a mouthful of broken glass and shattered teeth and there is no questioning the adrenalin rush that accompanies the band’s furious riffs and scarifying vocals. As all the songs on the album do, the track ends with a short instrumental segue that links the album together thematically and musically. ‘Soul crusher’ is no less effective, Paul’s incomparable percussive assault underpinning George Anderson’s unholy roar and Steve’s inventive lead guitar work. The songs are long, soaked in hellfire and perspiration, but never dull, the band demonstrating not only their unique individual talents but also the ability to work in concert, George playing the demented ringleader as the album’s tale of bloodshed and mayhem unfolds. With the sound of dangling chains still ringing in our ears, the tale gets darker as sinister chords overlay the sound of a particularly brutal murder before the band unleash the pure sonic evil of ‘psycho killer’, a grinding slab of metal that ranges through a variety of moods and tempos as the band let the tale unfold over a thrillingly brutal eight minutes. This is pure, unhinged and apocalyptically vital metal and it is one of the best riffs I’ve come across in months. Adrenalin soaked, ‘Psycho killer’ is one of those rare songs that sends your body into fight or flight mode, supercharging the nervous system and leaving you feeling as if you’ve been in a fight with the titular character. It is an early highlight of the album, but such is the overall strength of song writing that it is not the only one.
‘Eyes of my dead’ emerges out of the dark chants of the dead, a 22 piece choir providing the blood curdling backing that leads into the disturbingly placid track only for Steve to suddenly slam out a riff of such primal fury that it tears right across the surface of the song leaving you flattened by its sheer propulsive power. A schizophrenic, multi-faceted song, what makes both the song, and the band, stand out is the band’s ability to effortlessly move between styles which keeps even the album’s longest songs endlessly entertaining. The amusingly titled ‘nun with a gun’ is one of the album’s shorter songs at a mere six minutes. Powered by a molten guitar riff, it sounds like Megadeth being covered by High on fire with its furious rhythm and acid-gargle vocals whilst the chorus of “She’s a nun with a gun, hallelujah!” will surely bring a smile to the face even as you bang your head. The story continues with ‘the church’, a track that begins with a gruesome discovery and which proves to be a gloriously unhinged mix of neo-classical melodies, relentless soloing and Paul Bostaff’s merciless, deathly beats underpinning George’s furious delivery. Gloriously original, you’ll not hear another extreme band craft such a beguiling mix of hypnotic, brutal metal this year, and such is the scope of the music that it’s no surprise that elements of doom appear in the latter stages, or that a choir briefly sweetens the sound even as the riffs are at their most deadly. At nine minutes, ‘dead reckoning’ is the band at their most diverse as they are joined by Starship’s Phil Bennett on piano for an epic slab of grandiose metal. However, the song falls down a touch where George employs clean vocals that lack both control and power – on future ventures it would be worth considering employing a separate clean vocalist especially if the vocals, as they do here, have to compete with the tender ministrations of a choir. However, when the song hits a more brutal note the band return to form and the song overall is a success, but it is the weakest piece on the album. In contrast the rumbling riffs and throbbing bass of the title track sound like a summoning of pure evil and as George employs screams that tear straight from the heart of the abyss, the band indulge in their darkest passions, grinding out riffs that smoke and smoulder in the pale daylight. The album closes with another lengthy piece, ‘the sleep’, which opens with a richly textured synth part and then segues into ferocious death metal underpinned as ever by Damien Sisson’s richly rewarding bass work. It’s a fitting conclusion to both the album and the story and it leaves you gagging for more from this most inventive of extreme metal bands.
Overall From Hell more than deliver on the promise of the concept. The musicians involved were born to create this type of evil concept album, and it is their stunning musicianship that raises what could well have been a contrived mess to an art form. The art work, the cleverly constructed story and the excellent production are all perfect and the only slight criticism that I have for the album is that the clean vocals on ‘dead reckoning’ lack the power and range that they needed. Imagine someone like ICS Vortex performing the role, with his rich, clean voice, and you would have had the perfect song. This is, however, a minor point and overall you could not ask for a better, more ambitious or imaginative concept metal album. Extreme, brilliantly conceived and played, this is a rare gem that is more or less essential listen for fans of intelligent, brutal metal. ‘Ascent from hell’ is a stunning effort and worth far more than the not inconsiderable sum of its parts. Make sure you don’t miss out on this one.