Not Dead Yet
Released: 2000, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
I began last month’s review of Nile with the statement that sophomore efforts are tricky stuff. Well, if you’ve heard Black Seeds of Vengeance you’ve had a lesson on how the grand fortunes of second albums can turn out well for a newer band. Raise Hell’s Not Dead Yet provides the contra example.
Astute metal fans recall that in 1998, this odd band of Swedish teenagers – not one of them over 17 – broke into the metal world with Holy Target, a slab of catchy and extremely lively black metal sandwiched between one of the most ludicrous album covers in the history of heavy metal, on the front (imagine two F-16s pumping cruise missiles into Notre Dame Cathedral), and the classic Dismember-esque no-shirts, bullet-belts, and-covered-in-pig’s-blood band pose, on the back. Y2K’s Not Dead Yet features a virtually incomprehensible cover (what is she, a hooker? A zombie? Crazed New York City advertising executive with a dark side?), some nifty packaging and band photos that are perfectly designed to cause dreamy 14-year-old girls to swoon over Jonas, Dennis, Niklas and Torstein – sans pig’s blood this time – and a creamy musical filling made mostly of fluff. A far cry from the rambunctious thrash-tinged blackness of Holy Target, this time Raise Hell give us pretty standard thrash, very little black metal influence at all, no memorable riffs, and a fairly formidable sense of disappointment.
The first track, “Dance With The Devil,” starts out with a riff that sounds suspiciously like late-80s thrash, then breaks into screechy vocals but never quite gets out of first gear. Unfortunately it’s one of the better tracks on the album. The doomy opening of “Babes” segues into dull thrash mode; the title track starts out promising, but is rife with problems (see below); the latter half of the album offers very few surprises, and by the end of it you go away thinking many of the songs sounded very much the same. The best track on the album is the fourth, “Devilyn,” which stands out from the rest. It begins at a slower pace, but holds attention all the way through, and its chorus offers a memorable, anguished-sounding melody which the band pulls off very well. In marked contrast, the title track – probably the poorest on the album – follows it. Using up most of its musical ammunition in the first forty seconds, before vocalist Jonas Nilsson opens his mouth, it devolves into a repetitive shouting match of a monotone chorus. The track “Not Dead Yet” also showcases a major problem with the album, which is a serious deficiency in lyric-writing skills. Mr. Nillson quotes Ugly Kid Joe (“I’m the goddamned devil/This job pleases me”) in the first track, Jim Morrison (“I like it when you light my fire/come on baby take me higher”) in the second, then quickly runs out of ideas. The lyrics in the title track just make you cringe. “Isn’t it, isn’t it, isn’t it the best! Isn’t it the best when it is like this! Give each other something more than a kiss!” Groaner lyrics plague this album from beginning to end, suggesting a particular area of concentration for the next album. It’s rare for lyrical content to really detract from an album listening experience for me, but Not Dead Yet is a rare bird.
Still, Raise Hell have considerable promise, and they continue to show it. Guitar work, drums and bass are all excellent. The members of the band seem to work well together musically and the production quality, particularly for a group of guys barely out of the garage, is far above average. A diagnosis of the trouble with this album seems to point unmistakably to the conceptual/writing stage. While this is the death knell for many lesser bands, it may not be for Raise Hell. Holy Target proved they have the technical and creative talent to take good material and make it into a fine metal album. With some better ideas and better-written songs, I fully expect to see Raise Hell back in the air, ferociously dive-bombing cathedrals once again. While Not Dead Yet is probably a release to skip, Raise Hell is not a band to give up on.