Friday, December 7, 2012

Hellspawn - The Great Red Dragon (2012)

It’s unceasingly inspiring how even the lower tiers of Polish death metal seem to have an admirable amount of quality. I’ve had a huge exposure to this scene over the last few months via the good folk over at Godz ov War and Selfmadegod, and nothing on their rosters has proven an exception to this rule… as of yet, anyways. While Hellspawn may not have knocked me upside the head quite as hard as some of their brethren, they nevertheless fail to disappoint in regards to rigorous baseline quality, and provide a satisfactory firestorm of violence on this, their second album, The Great Red Dragon.

Like many groups purveying this style of pummeling, diabolical force, it’s tempting to draw a distinct parallel to Behemoth and call it a day, but the rather raw, direct attack here bears looking further back into the metal timeline to the formative demonic summonings of Deicide, who, if we’re honest, indirectly influenced groups like Behemoth in the first place. The barbaric method of attack here brings to mind some of the more recent works of Glen Benton and company, while the aesthetic of the riffing itself bears the brand of another Floridian institution, the once-indomitable Morbid Angel. Not a very unique set of influences, given, but virtually thousands of bands have proven that such a marriage is a recipe for some very fucking good death metal. Hellspawn can safely be counted among their number.

The Great Red Dragon is a brutal album, and it excels at being brutal. Barring a few short breaks, we’re talking relatively consistent break-neck pacing. However, some spacious, suitably evil riffing patterns keep the record from feeling like an unflappable jackhammer. The style of the guitar licks is safely within the expected confines of the above-mentioned legends, and though they’re not highly memorable, they aren’t without a degree of creativity, either. Hellspawn do not simply chug and blast, chug and blast, but put together some compelling note patterns that elevate them slightly above the norm. What truly distinguishes them, however, and proves to be the feather in their goat-skin cap, is the generous slathering of positively divine lead guitar work. This thing is riddled with dense, well-composed bursts of melody that envelop you like an ancient, evil force, bristling with unknown power and radiating vibrant diabolical energy. These sections rise far above the relative familiarity of the riffs and bestow some real, compelling personality to Hellspawn.

If only as much could be said of the remainder, as even though the riffing doesn’t really falter, per say, it fails to consistently excite, or even differentiate itself, from itself, enough to remain totally engaging. At 27 minutes, this is already a brief excursion, so it’s not a good thing that many of the patterns, for all their admitted quality, tend to blend into each other. I must note, however, that this can’t be attributed to all of the selections, as there are a number of fantastic note progressions here, it’s just that they’re the exception rather than the rule. The rest admittedly kick varying degrees of ass, but they tend to feel exceedingly similar the deeper into the record you go.

Even given the familiarity of many songs, however, it’s hard to feel bored here. The musicians are beasts, the production is slick and forceful, and the overall brevity ensures this snack-size helping of break-neck whirling doesn’t overstay its welcome. Vocals are a hateful bark that function admirably in their role, most comparable to Glen Benton, but aren’t unique or tangential from the norm in any way, and you know, the album at large can be quantified as such, which I mean to be in no way as insulting as it might sound. The Great Red Dragon is a highly functional hailstorm of brutal death metal with good, if familiar riffing and a propensity for some absolutely stunning leads, spread evenly enough to bestow some much-needed personality and ensure the tension level stays high throughout its short running time. It wouldn’t be my first choice in the underground Polish death circuit this year, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t still a strong showing that should snap its fair share of vertebrae. Those inclined to bang along to diabolical brutality, or bask in the ancient grandeur of early Morbid Angel or Behemoth will no doubt find a good amount of value here, and this would make an excellent stocking stuffer for your buddy who was let down by the new Deicide.

7.25 / 10 - On Pantheons of Flames