It would seem there would be no worse place imaginable than hell. Maybe Baltimore. But at least they have the Inner Harbor. Hell likely would not have that, or much water. Of course, what is hell? A fiery place with caverns, fires, and devils? A boiling pit of lava? Or is it something else?
People often talk about experiencing hell on Earth, and that can mean all kinds of things. One can be in great pain or stress, and that could end up feeling like the ultimate torture. Or perhaps a person is overwhelmed by personal demons and psychological matters, and the very idea of existence could be the most unfair, inhumane thing imaginable. I could see how that might feel like hell, and the very experience of such misfortune could seem like being baked alive over hot coals.
Whatever the case, hell is bound to be one of those concepts that means something different to everyone. It’s one of the things that initially intrigued me about the band Hell and their bleak, tortured, death-swarming doom metal that’s become some of the most morose and humbling on the planet. There are many bands that take the name Hell, including the English NWOBHM band that recently released a comeback album on Nuclear Blast, but the incarnation we will discuss today is a one-man project led by M.S.W. that calls Portland, Ore., home. Over three full-length albums and two split recordings, Hell has become a project that’s gotten darker with every turn and musically more astonishing with each release.
“III” is the newest document from M.S.W. (“I” was released in 2009, while “II” surfaced in 2010), and it’s also one of the most haunting he’s conjured yet. Consisting of two, epic-length tracks, the album captivates and terrifies at the same time. There are levels of great beauty and valleys of extreme horrors that comprise the landscape of this album, and just gazing at the stunning album art (the cassette inlay folds out into a poster) gives you a great indication of the journey ahead of you. Like-minded acts? Thou, Pallbearer, Dragged Into Sunlight would do.
The album opens with “Mourn,” and 18-minute journey full of tumult and passion. The song opens cleanly, with trickling guitars and solemn passages before it completely ignites and catches full conflagration. From there, total gut-mangling sludge doom erupts, with beastly growls, gazey playing, and a fog of anger and frustration blanketing the terrain. “Falling from your heavens, to the hellish dirt of our hellish Earth,” M.S.W. yells in pained, lacerated howls, almost as if you can imagine him bleeding to death as his mangled body tries to pull itself over rock and dirt. Drone bleeds in and noise takes over, with moaning and delicate strings raining down over the chaos.
“Decedere,” which means simply “to die,” is breathtaking from the very start. Again we begin clean, with cellos and other sounds sweeping in and building a base, and melody lines bubbling up and down again. The volume and tempo rise ever so slowly, letting the drama take hold, and once things begin to hit a fevered pitch, a female voice erupts with an angelic aria that feels like it’s carrying with it the curtains of death. M.S.W.’s wails return and sprinkle the song with potent anguish, and the pace settles back into a temporary sense of ease. Then it kicks back up on a trad-heavy guitar line. From there, the track opens back up, and beams of hellish light burst forth, with more throaty growls, gazey lead guitar work, and a long silence that stretches out only to be broken up by another guitar assault and noisy warbling that mangles the senses. By the time this track is done, you’ll be completely spent.
I’ve spent a lot of time with “III” since downloading it (legally, might I add), and it’s been a great, thoughtful companion during nighttime walks, while working, or simply while thinking. It’s a record you have to experience with your mind devoted to fully comprehend. It’s an emotionally moving, spiritually wrecking album, and it’s a fitting, climactic final piece to this trilogy. There has been a lot of doom that’s come out this year, and a lot of it good, but little of it compares to this incredible album that is the crown jewel of Hell’s nightmarish catalog.
For more on the band, go here: http://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/
To buy the album (digital or physical), go here: http://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/album/hell-iii
For more on the label, go here: http://www.eternalwarfare.org/