Sometimes all it takes is a simple crashing guitar chord to know that you’re going to be hooked. Such is the case with Hands of Despair whose album, ‘hereafter’ opens with a monumental chord that reverberates through to the very soul if played at sufficient volume. Offering up just six tracks in fifty-five minutes, nothing Hands of despair do is short lived or pithy, and as the album takes in black, death, doom and progressive metal, the band is also nothing short of ambitious. Initially the solo project of Maxime Cote, ‘Hereafter’ was recorded by a flesh and blood band and there is no question that they have achieved their aim of combining “the heaviness of death metal, the intensity of black metal, the ambiance of doom metal and the complex structures of progressive metal.” To put it simply, ‘hereafter’ is an amazing and epic album that is a must for fans of intelligently written and arranged extreme metal.
Opening with the epic ‘the departure’ is a strong statement of intent. Veering from melodic doom to crushing death metal, the music ebbs and flows and the song takes in more ideas over the course of its run time than many bands manage on whole albums. And yet, for all that the song is structurally varied, the careful writing means that it forms a coherent whole that flows as naturally as any classical composition, one moment tenderly caressing the listener, the next tearing savagely at the flesh with concealed claws. This is the sort of metal I love, extreme and yet tempered by a sense of melody that keeps the music on the right side of memorable without sacrificing brutality. The many layers also help to keep you coming back to the album time and again and although the bands are stylistically different, I am reminded of the sense of wonder I felt when I first encountered Opeth, and if the two bands share anything, it is the ability to sculpt huge progressive epics that also successfully harness the energy and aggression of extreme metal. As if to make that point, ‘shattered memories’ detonates with the energy of an atom bomb, the guitars forming a ferocious wall of noise that sears the eardrums and makes the listener gasp. Yet for all the ferocity on display, it is, once again, a multi-faceted beast that moves through a variety of moods and atmospheres, all of which serves to make the seven-minute runtime seem to vanish in half that time. No less impressive is ‘them’, with its brutal kick drum assault and crushing death metal vocal delivered in the vein of Behemoth. A full-blooded beast, ‘them’ is hands of Despair at their most devastating, dealing in the sort of brutal mid-paced death metal with which Kataklysm so effectively made their name.
Refusing to relent, ‘underworld’ crackles with dark energy and blackened atmosphere. With subtle keyboard flourishes adding a regal air to the proceedings, the emphasis here is on David-Alexandre Brousseau’s stunningly powerful vocals and Maxime’s effervescent guitar work. ‘Creator’ has a blackened feel to it with its surging riffs and dark, icy atmosphere and it highlights the fact that Hands of despair are nothing if not diverse in their approach. A monumental piece of blackened fury, ‘creator’ progresses over its eleven minutes, the band slowly expanding on the primitive riff that opens the song, always searching for a deeper, darker melody with which to entice the listener further into their chamber of horrors. The song reaches its climax amidst a veritable tsunami of crushing riffs that leave the listener almost entirely drained. Regrettably ‘the road’ is the album’s final track and it is a testament to the strength of the song writing on offer that some forty minutes have passed without the listener once becoming restless. Opening on an eerie, sombre note, ‘the road’ slowly builds its atmosphere before the band unleash a suitably potent riff, wreathed in atmospheric keyboards and a sense of dark grandeur that is elevated by the softly-spoken words that lead the listener into the heart of the track, only to be repulsed by a death metal vocal that all but chokes on its own misanthropic rage. It’s one hell of a finale and it leaves the listener firmly ready to travel down this road again.
‘Hereafter’ is epic, progressive blackened death metal at its best. A band with both talent and ambition, Hands of despair play endlessly with genre boundaries, refusing to impose a set of strictures upon themselves that would be unnecessarily self-limiting. Instead, Hands of despair bravely explore the outer reaches of extreme metal and come up trumps, delivering an album that is memorable and crushing in equal measure. For those who like their music to feature both brains and brawn, ‘hereafter’ is essential listening.