Every so often, I’ll stumble across an album that makes me question every time I’ve listened to the first two songs of an album and decided it wasn’t worth my time. I’ve listened to enough metal to gauge if I’ll like something fairly quickly, and I’ve learned to trust that sense. But then an album like Hell Fire’s Metal Masses comes along and throws a humbling wrench into the whole thing.
I’ll put it bluntly: when I first heard Metal Masses, I thought the first two songs (not including the nifty acoustic intro that endeared me to the album in the first place) were bad. They sounded like uninspired heavy metal tracks littered with riffs that would have been better off rusting in an 80’s scrap heap. It was an album I’d heard a hundred times before.
And then something clicked, and Hell Fire suddenly weren’t a second-rate NWOBHM cover band. Perhaps it was something about the catchy riffs and energetic, short solos scattered through the fourth track, “Into the Light”, that made Hell Fire’s sound appeal to me. Maybe I just needed my appetite whetted first for some nice heavy metal. Whatever the case, I’m glad I kept listening, because what I discovered was a band that doesn’t just echo the heavy metal heyday of the 1980’s, but manages to breathe life into a genre that often feels hopelessly stale.
Hell Fire succeeds because of the simplicity of their music. They’re good at writing galloping riffs and catchy choruses and soloing until Randy Rhoads’ corpse smiles, and that’s just what they do for 52 minutes. There’s still enough variation within this framework to keep the album interesting, however. Tempo changes keep the album flowing nicely; the ponderous “Islands of Hell” might actually be the most well composed song on the album. The manic instrumental “Excelsior” proves the band’s ability to stand on their own without the very capable vocals of Jake Nunn. Many of the solos infesting the album are excellent, but two in particular deserve mention. The ending solo on “Metal Masses” ends in a delectable hellfire of percussion crashes and twin-guitar vivacity. And to top it off, the album closes with a two and a half minute tribute to heavy metal excess. The solos certainly aren’t technical masterpieces, but they have a terrific ear for melody.
Although the mixing is a little suspect (the drums are pretty loud), the fairly sparse composition and instrumentation of the Metal Masses allows the dual guitar riffs to ring through with the amount of distortion and ferocity that a heavy metal album requires. Hell Fire aren’t world beaters or genre-challengers, but if you’re looking for a fun band to scratch your throwback-NWOBHM itch, Metal Masses has you covered.
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