"Human Remains"

By Dr. Abner Mality

This has got to be the metal story of the year. Being the old fart that I am, I remember getting the great British fanzine Metal Forces in the 80's...yes, a REAL fanzine on paper!...and nestled deep with its pages, on its demo section, I saw a very bizarre picture of a band called HELL. I kind of rolled my eyes at the pic and the band name and thought nothing more about it. But as the years rolled by, I began to hear just how influential this band was on the British scene and how they were cruelly undone by the suicide of their master mind, Dave Halliday. Even so, I reckoned Hell were a minor curiousity for only the most obsessive old school metalheads.

Well, here we are in 2011 and the very same band has released one of the strongest and most ambitious metal albums of the year on one of the biggest indy metal labels. Can anyone say "comeback"? We can chalk up a lot of Hell's return to Andy Sneap, a student and disciple of Halliday's who has fought to keep the band's memory alive and who has taken the place of his former mentor on guitar. If you've been living under a rock for the last 20 years, Sneap is one of the best producers in heavy metal and a one-time guitarist for Sabbat. The rest of the band's formation remains the same as it was in 1985, except for the addition of Sneap and ultra-theatrical vocalist Dave Bower, brother of the other lead guitarist Kev Bower.

This is sheer quality from the get go. Imagine a demonic NWOBHM band with all the great qualities of classic Maiden, Clovenhoof and Angelwitch mixed with Mercyful Fate at its best and maybe just a touch of Cradle of Filth style black metal (Cradle being a band very influenced by Hell) and you'll have the essence. It is pure molten metal with a grandiose, bombastic touch epitomized by the over the top vocals of Dave Bower. To say this guy is theatrical is an understatement, but his dramatic, fruity tones perfectly match the complex metal here. There are tons of sound effects, keyboard enhancement and Shakespearean blood-and-thunder to give "Human Remains" the feeling of a Hammer horror film. But it's the metal that drives this beast on and blistering cuts like "On Earth As It Is In Hell", "The Oppressors", "Let Battle Commence" and "Plague and Fyre" hit full blast with that Maiden-meets-Fate sound. The guitar work of Sneap and Bower is flawless and ably backed up by a terrific rhythm section.

The band also love their epics and we get some long and truly involved songs like "Blasphemy and The Master", the 10 minute plus "The Devil's Deadly Weapon", "MacBeth" and the album ending "No Martyr's Cage". Now Hell's sole flaw is that they sometimes get a little too long-winded and overdone for their own good. The opening to "MacBeth" is sheer cartoony overkill with the Three Witches cackling while "No Martyr's Cage" and "The Devil's Deadly Weapon" tend to wander a bit too much. But even these songs contain powerful riffs and grooves.

Considering the band had about 25 years to think about this "debut", the quality shouldn't be such a surprise. But it is. These fiends bring fire, class and fury to the metal world with "Human Remains" and this should hopefully be enough to put all the trendy 70's occult retro-rock stuff back in the vault where it belongs.