Released: 2005, Lifeforce Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
The melodic death market is bursting at the seams these days, so it takes a pretty spectacular album to rise above the rest and really leave a mark. One album that does that is HELL SWEET HELL, the latest from the German band Fear My Thoughts. Somehow it slipped under my radar upon release in July 2005 but better late than never, right? Owing much in style to the Swedish melodic death and European thrash movements, HELL SWEET HELL sounds not unlike A PREDATOR’S PORTRAIT/NATURAL BORN CHAOS-era Soilwork, RUSTED ANGEL-era Darkane and Callenish Circle. Fans of that style will find much to get excited over here as the melodic choruses and swift percussive sections are sandwiched between the album’s driving force: razor-sharp riffs and technically-proficient solos. Surprisingly, Fear My Thoughts used to be a metalcore band and shared ranks with fellow countrymen Caliban and Heaven Shall Burn on their previous releases, VITRIOL and THE GREAT COLLAPSE, but the move to a purer metal sound is welcomed here. Mathias von Ockl’s vocals vary from a deep, throaty growl to a soaring clean vocal and he is able to pull off both, though never quite reaching the dynamic as fluidly as Soilwork’s “Speed” Strid. Even the omnipresent keyboards of Kim Olsen are used sparingly and never sacrifice the guitars, something that plagued the last 2 In Flames albums. All in all, HELL SWEET HELL stands up against the great releases of the genre. Chances are it won’t be held in the same regard as a WHORACLE or NATURAL BORN CHAOS simply because of the stature of those two bands entire catalogues but HELL SWEET HELL certainly possesses all the necessary elements to be spoken in the same breath.
After a pointless intro (man, I get tired of these “mood-setting” wastes of space!), the neo-thrashscape of “Windows For The Dead” comes barreling out with riffs, keyboards, rhythms and vocals that could fool just about anyone into believing they are hearing a Soilwork song circa 1999. The only real difference is that Mathias von Ockl’s clean vocals aren’t quite as buttery-smooth as those of “Speed” Strid—not that many are—but otherwise, fans of A PREDATOR’S PORTRAIT will be drooling all over themselves. “In The Hourglass,” “Sweetest Hell” and “Dying Eyes” follow much the same path trodden by WHORACLE/COLONY-era In Flames, with dual melodic leads and vocals that run the gamut from a death metal roar to a more subdued growl and a clean vocal in the chorus. The riff that runs the course of “My Delight” sounds like an old classical piece that I just can’t put my finger on, while the keyboards used here and later on “Sadist Hour” create an effective ambience. “The Masters Call” is the band’s defining moment with quick, pounding drums, vicious, double-tracked vocals and riffs that cut like a hot knife through butter. The Maiden-esque guitar solo is also especially noteworthy, not just for its nod to the old-school European sound but for pulling it off so well. “Ghosts of Time” is another bite of ear candy that will win over fans of keyboard-driven melodic death a la Mercenary and NATURAL BORN CHAOS-era Soilwork. The band delves into a humorous track, “Tie Fighting,” that deals with the Star Wars movies (“Showing you the power of the Dark side, a place where Luke could hide”) and von Ockl’s over-the-top vocal performance is a real treat. The slow, plodding “…Trying To Feel” really sets itself apart from the rest of the album as it encapsulates the sonic sledgehammer swung by bands like Neurosis and Eyes of Fire before concluding with a down-tuned riff that sounds as if it were lifted from a Tool album. Not a bad track…just stuck on the wrong album.
Some may cry afoul of Fear My Thoughts’ blatant influences of melodic death but rarely does a band get to the core of that sound and reshape it into their own entity. There are immediate similarities to In Flames, Soilwork, etc. but at no time does HELL SWEET HELL feel like a rip-off of those band’s glories. At worst, the clean vocals will turn off some off the die-hard death metal fanatics but those with an open mind and an ear for melody will be pleasantly surprised by the use of neo-thrash riffing, muted keyboards and vitriolic vocals found here. This recommendation may be late in coming but HELL SWEET HELL is certainly one of the best new melodic death albums I have heard in some time.
KILLER KUTS: “Windows For The Dead,” “In The Hourglass,” “My Delight,” “Sweetest Hell,” “Dying Eyes,” “The Masters Call,” “Ghosts of Time”