Hooded Menace are back baby, heavy as ever and ready to tear your souls from their disturbed tombs. The Finnish four-piece have been playing a form of death-doom since their debut album Fulfil the Curse released back in 2008. The band’s music has been constantly evolving since then. The 2008 record had some stoner sentiments, featuring bluesier sounds and groovier feels but since then has slowly devolved into the hulking tar encrusted monstrosity that we know today. Their most recent album The Tritonus Bell might be a bit less heavy than some of their middle releases and follows more in the footsteps of their 2018 record, Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed. The music has a decidedly melodic quality to it, no longer featuring any of the stoner qualities heard on Fulfil the Curse and slightly less dark than the albums that followed it. Although this relatively new face of Hooded Menace is one I am not entirely used to yet, I can happily say I loved each and every minute of this album and am always excited to see a band evolve and grow their sound as they age.
The most notable part of The Tritonus Bell is its heavy metal aesthetic that seeps out of the speakers frequently. I found myself oddly thinking of King Diamond throughout much of this release and couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until I had a read through the album personnel. To my surprise I was greeted with the name Andy LaRocque and to anyone who doesn’t recognise that name instantly, please never read my reviews again because we do not get along (joking, but you better remember that name now). For those not familiar with Mr LaRocque, he is the legendary lead guitarist who played for, you guessed it, Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, and he produced, mixed, mastered and engineered the entire album. Judging by the resultant sound, he must have had a rather large impact on the creative process. Although the sound is not something I expected from Hooded Menace I have to admit the combination of disgusting death doom and old school Kind Diamond-esque heavy metal is something I never knew I wanted but now know I must have. Although the music might lack some of the dejected qualities of earlier albums the heaviness is in no way mitigated despite some of the faster tempos.
The album title The Tritonus Bell also got my attention, the term ‘Tritonus’ referring to the musical interval of a tritone (an interval in music is a term used to describe the quality that two notes have when played together). The tritone is dissonant in sound and is sometimes known as the “Devil’s Interval’ because of its abrasive quality and ominous sound. The title of the album is seemingly referring to a bell that sounds a tritone when it rings out which I think is pretty cool.
Moving onto the album itself. The first track on the album is a short instrumental. The sounds of rain and wind softly batter your ears as melodic, sorrowful arpeggios intertwine with reverb drenched, distorted lead guitar. At first this was unexpected as the music permeates raw emotion, bereft of the horrific elements that are immediately apparent in older releases, however after growing accustomed to this album I find the music entrancing with hints of wistful nostalgia. That is until the track draws to a close and a guttural, diabolic groan is heard.
Diving straight into “Chime Diabolicus’ I am always struck by the 80’s, King Diamond aesthetic the track begins with. After extended listening I will admit, I like it, but at first, I wasn’t too sure. I became sold when I realised the band had managed to maintain a good balance between this new sound and their old funeral doom sound. The funeral doom parts do feel slightly less heavy than albums prior to 2018, but not too dissimilar to the sound of their 2018 release itself. This track is chock full of riffs of all shapes and sounds, tempo changes and heaped with melodic leads and solos. In some ways the increased amount of melodic elements make the songs more memorable than some older Hooded Menace tracks, this is neither good nor bad but just an observation. There are only lyrics released for a few songs and this is one of them, and while they are suitably disturbing, they also feel more poetic and accessible, dropping some of the violent qualities they used to possess but nevertheless I am fond of the writing. The guitar solo at 5:39 on this track sounds like it was written by Andy LaRocque himself as it sounds exactly like solos of his on King Diamond releases. This is totally a good thing as LaRocque’s solos might be some of the best in the entirety of metal history. It is worth mentioning that not all the solos on the albums have this quality so once again the band has managed to strike a great blend of their new and old sounds. We get a great taste of old Hooded Menace at 6:12 when a disgusting riff kicks in that makes you do your disgusting riff face. Despite my initial reservations on the initial style change this is one hell of a track, fresh, embracing the new while not throwing out the old.
Going onto track three ‘Blood Ornaments’ we are once again greeted with an unholy combination of funeral doom and 80’s heavy metal. The funeral doom parts in this track are bitterly morose, conjuring images of rain drenched moors, ditches strewn with the bodies of peasants, slain by God knows what, their corpses rotting and sinking into the mud. The song starts with a phasered guitar panning gradually across the speakers before breaking into more King Diamond-esque riffing. The most funerally of doomy parts is the chorus that comes in at 1:44, riffs sustained and steady like waves breaking against rock, leads like the howls of wind sweeping across cliff faces. The tempo change going into the chorus is smooth but abrupt when coming out into the faster instrumental bridge between chorus and verse. Some sublime picked guitar is heard at 4:55 drawing us into the echoing, middle section. I can faintly hear a chorus of voices (or perhaps a synth) droning along in the background, giving the section a sense of creepy foreboding. Being a nine-minute song, the fun doesn’t stop there. We are hit with a tonne more riffs, some repeated, others new and some tasty licks all leading us back into the songs final verse and chorus. The closing section is depressingly sad and beautiful at the same time. We hear more moaning voices join the frey while massive palm muted guitars and harmonies fill the mix growing to roar before slowly fading out.
As you can tell by my elaborate breakdowns of the first few tracks of this album, I am enamoured with this release and if I were to do this for each track this review would go on forever, and nobody would like that. Much of my general description of this album is consistent through the rest of the tracks of the album, though some parts deserve honourable mentions. For example, the twisted classic rock riff that closes out ‘Those Who Absorb the Night’, which almost borders on a country aesthetic, hell forbid. ‘Corpus Asunder’ has many great moments, particularly the groovy repeated riff that we first hear at 0:28 and throughout the song, very retro and oh so groovy. I also like the spoken, almost chanted vocal that follows shortly after, ghostly and haunting. The track also has a great compound timing section (6/8) close to the middle. ‘Scattered Dark’ just beats out ‘Blood Ornaments’ as the longest track and for purely that reason becomes the best track on the album, I need no other reason than that. Though that being said it does have a bit of a cheesy spoken part toward the end which I’m not sure I love 100% – the vote is still out on the best track. The closer ‘Instruments of Somber Finality’ is the obligatory instrumental outro track, though the track feels much more like an opening track than a closing one. A bit too fanfare-ish for a final track in my opinion but musically a great track. Some of the harmony heard in the opening is oddly reminiscent of Bernard Herman’s music from the classic Hitchcock film Vertigo so that’s pretty cool. Overall, some pretty tasty leads to close out too.
There is a track featured on Spotify that is not on the Bandcamp page but is worth mentioning and that is ‘The Torture Never Stops’ which is an unexpected Frank Zappa cover. Frank Zappa, the legend, is of course very worth covering but not something I expected from Hooded Menace. Nonetheless the cover is a faithful yet suitably more brutal rendition of the classic song, though perhaps lacking a lot of the musical nuance of the original. The lyrics are a perfect fit, but the music perhaps slightly dumbed down to make the cover work.
And with that I close the coffin on this review, let me recede back into my mausoleum and leave you with this; if you fail to listen to this album after such a glowing review, count yourself cursed. And this curse will be fulfilled…
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