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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Hellwell

Beyond the Boundaries of Sin

Review by Mike Korn

Hellwell is a very exciting collaboration between cult guitarist Mark "The Shark" Shelton of Manilla Road fame and underground horror writer E.C. Hellwell, who lends his name to the band. All I can say is that these guys have put out the surprise album of the year for fans of mysterious epic metal.

Any Manilla Road fan should pick this up without delay. The sound is very close indeed to the classically majestic metal of that perennial cult favorite. Shelton's distinct voice remains the same, his scorching guitar work hasn't changed. This has the same larger than life feeling that typifies Manilla Road. But to this formula is added a new element: the massive keyboard work of Mr. Hellwell himself. I have never heard a band where guitar and keys combine as powerfully as they do here. Hellwell's keyboard sound is not the modern, digitally processed stuff...it's mostly huge waves of Hammond organ and organic analog sound in the Jon Lord vein, with the occasional burst of bizarre synth sound effects. It's hard to describe the monumental atmosphere these keys add to the music. It's totally immense!

Add the fact that the band is dealing with themes of Lovecraftian horror, serial killers and tales of the ancient past and you have one awesome band. This release will not be particularly easy to find, but it's well worth the hunt. I hope we hear a lot more from Hellwell.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Strange Case of Dr. Henry Howard Holmes

Fans of true crime will immediately recognize the name of H.H. Holmes, America's greatest serial killer, who built an entire "castle" full of death traps to prey upon young women during the Chicago World's Fair of the 19th century. The song is a record of his evil deeds and starts with some wheezy old carnival sounding keyboards that almost seem like they could be from the 1890's.  Then Mark Shelton's loud guitars cut in with a slashing metal riff. This man can jam! The song is full of his great soloing, as is the album in general. Shelton's reedy vocals are mixed with sinister death metal grunts as the gruesome story unfolds.  Mr. Hellwell's keyboard work is strong and heavy and accentuates the guitar instead of detracting from it.

Eaters of the Dead
Here's a crunchy metal assault that could have been on just about any Manilla Road album but again, the difference is Hellwell's powerful organ sound, which adds a layer missing in typical Manilla Road work. The lyrics are based on Michael Crichton's story, which was the basis for the excellent movie "The 13th Warrior.” I also have to mention the almost hysterically manic drumming that keeps the energy level high. The ending to the song is curiously gloomy and dirge-like.
Keepers of the Devil's Inn
This is where the album really starts to take off. The opening is very quiet and creepy and sets the mood perfectly. Shelton gets to demonstrate his bluesier side for a bit until the metal kicks in with a killer "marching" riff. The first half of the song is good enough, but as it crawls along, the power increases and the Hammond organ becomes more prominent. Finally, it breaks into this totally awesome soaring riff that just blows your head off.  This is great stuff!
Deadly Nightshade
This song just missed being on the last Manilla Road album Playground of the Damned. It would have been a top song there, but here, it's probably the least impressive on show. This doesn't mean it's bad in any way, but it sounds very much like a Manilla Road out-take with some of Hellwell's massive Hammond organ tacked on. Once again, those keys really add something to the cut and Shelton's guitar solo is one of the album's best. The chorus has an awkward sound to it.
Acheronomicon I: Tomb of the Unnamed One
This begins the trilogy of linked tunes that ends the albums, a story of Lovecraftian horror and ancient mystery. Instead of having the eerie keyboard buildup I expected, this one crashes right into some straight guitar crunch. It's a very Manilla Road sounding tune with a strong chorus. I really like Shelton's vocals here and the song has that epic feeling of hugeness that both MR and Hellwell do so expertly.
Acheronomicon II: The Heart of Ahriman
What a killer song this is. Hellwell's Hammond organ sound is again more prominent and it bolsters an epic mid-tempo riff. The vocal hooks here are really soaring, almost ethereal and I just totally love the air of mystery the keyboards add. I don't have the lyrics, but they seem to relate the story of an explorer possessed by an ancient spirit, who is cursed to roam the Earth in search of an artifact that will revive the evil kingdom of Acheron. The song also features an onslaught of tumbling drums and great guitar soloing from "The Shark.”
Acheronomicon III: End of Days
The rumble of approaching catastrophe begins this final massive tune. Clocking in at over thirteen minutes, it features a lot of experimental and creepy synth work from E.C. Hellwell. Much of it sounds like the analog effects from old sci-fi and horror films and that's never a bad thing in my book. There's also a very cool Middle Eastern vibe to much of the song. When the metal kicks in, it kicks in hard and brutal. Shelton's guitar tone sounds rippingly metallic and the Hammond organ is as huge as it gets. The tune unfolds with a slow, inexorable heaviness that just engulfs you. You can almost envision the dark towers of Acheron rising from the Earth as you listen. After the monumental climax, the song trails into oblivion with more atmospheric synth work from Hellwell. What a tune!
 
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