"Hell To The Holy"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Let the battle begin! Who deserves to command the legacy of Venom? Is it arch-demon Cronos and his two latest henchmen, who have made the latest Venom album "Fallen Angels" the best in years? Or is it Mpire of Evil, boasting the talents of founding Venom guitarist Mantas, former Venom drummer and Cronos' little brother Antton and one-time Venom growler Demolition Tony Dolan?

Actually, the battle is too close to call at this point, because the latest efforts from both bands are really blowing God's skull apart with raw and rocking metal. "Fallen Angels" I will cover at a later date (take my word, it is well worth investigating) but for now, I turn to Mpire of Evil. Venom fans will not be disappointed with "Hell To The Holy". The ripping and ravaging guitar sound of Mantas is in full force throughout this record...something that his current replacement in Venom, L.A. Rage, cannot really duplicate. Mantas has flirted with a variety of styles since leaving Venom, but nothing's made an impact. I think he has thrown in the towel and realized that his classic style is the best. As for Demolition Man, well, there is only one Cronos and that's a fact. Nobody can really match that sneering gruff growl. But Dolan's work here is nothing to be ashamed of...he gives every track his all. Antton has always been a superior drummer and here he really shows what he can do, despite big brother Conrad labelling him a "nu-metal" drummer.

The record kicks off with the fierce "Hellspawn" and proceeds to cover a variety of heavy styles. The best tracks are those where Mantas takes his chains off and cuts loose with speed and power. "Metal Messiah", the thrashing "Snake Pit" and awesome "Shockwave" favor pure thrash, especially the bone-breaking "Shockwave", which is the heaviest cut on both this and "Fallen Angels". The title track is slower and doesn't really convince me, but "The 8th Gate" and "Mpire" show these guys can handle the huger, more measured songs. Something really different comes up on the catchy "Devil", which mixes metal with dirty swamp blues right from the adventurous cut.

As a whole, "Hell to the Holy" hangs together really well. Some tracks are markedly better than others, but the album flows well and is never less than vicious. If you dig metal that's evil and raw, but not yet death metal, this is the ticket.

Only one thing to say about Venom vs. Mpire of Evil...IT'S ON!!!